If we had remembered to take the camera on our family vacation in the winter of 1995, among the photos tucked into our album would be one that looked something like this...
Yes, we were passengers on a train that was involved in an accident. A real photo of this unfortunate event wouldn't have looked quite this bad, because mercifully, the train we were riding on didn't derail. (My husband 'posed' some of the trains and vehicles on his model train layout so I could take a picture for this post.) It was however, a very serious accident, because it involved a fatality. We were traveling on Via Rail Canada between Quebec City and Montreal when the driver of a car chose to ignore the warnings at a grade crossing. His attempt to beat the train cost the man his life. In a matter of seconds, our vacation took a strange and very distressing turn.
As soon as details were available, train personnel fanned out through the passenger cars and stopped at each seat. In hushed tones, they compassionately explained in French and English what had just occurred, and apologized in advance for the inevitable delay that would ensue. An investigation by authorities would have to be completed, debris needed to be removed from the undercarriage of the train, and inspectors would have to check for damage to the operating systems before we would be allowed to continue on our way. They also told us that food service would commence shortly.
Food service? Now I must explain, that in 1995, even on short journeys like the three hour trip between Quebec and Montreal, Via Rail included meals in the price of the fare. We had already been fed, so we were uncertain as to what 'food service' meant. It became apparent as soon as carts began to roll out of the kitchen.
Following the same instincts that drive us to put on the kettle, and pull out a coffee cake when tragedy strikes at home, the kitchen crew bowed to the fact that food is the great comforter. They must have raided every cabinet and refrigerator quickly, because soon an array of sandwiches, cheese and crackers, fruits, desserts and snacks flowed in a steady stream from the galley. Coffee cups were silently filled and refilled and food was graciously offered, while we sat on an elevated section of track where the train had come to its unscheduled stop. Everyone in our car was unusually quiet, as we watched the emergency vehicles come and go on the streets below us. Sipping hot drinks and nibbling cookies gave some of us time to reflect upon the unfortunate accident. Others used the time to offer silent prayers for the person who had lost his life.
Gradually, the passengers began to break their self imposed silence by sharing stories about where they were from or why they were travelling. We had the opportunity to share the details of our stay at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec.The college girls across the aisle talked about visiting their friends, while others spoke about business meetings or seeing family. The gloomy atmosphere in the train lifted a bit. Food and drink hadn't changed our situation, but it did provide a familiar and comforting touch when it was most needed.
Finally, after a few hours, we were able to resume our journey. When we reached Montreal, we said good bye to the people who had shared our experience. We knew we'd never see each other again, but our brief time together in a stressful situation had connected us in a unique manner.
Looking back on the happy, sad or frightening experiences in our life, it seems that food was always present. It has helped us to celebrate or mourn, and in situations like the train accident, it sooths, but sometimes preparing food can be the source of some pretty weird stories, laughter, and both good and bad memories.
Disasters in my kitchen are not common, but there have been a few. I did drop a pineapple upside down cake upside down on the floor. A road construction project near our home in Connecticut necessitated blasting through some rock, and unfortunately the explosion occurred in mid cake flip. I was so startled, that the pan, the cake dish and the cake flew out of my hands. Our dog, Gretchen, who was the very definition of the term 'chow hound', immediately dove in to the mess on the kitchen floor and badly burned her mouth and tongue on the hot sugary syrup! It took a few buckets of hot soapy water to clean the floor, and I had to keep filling the dog's water bowl with cold water and ice cubes!
There was also the episode of the shrink wrapped banana cake. I baked the cake, left it in the pan and gave it a good layer of frosting. I had to run out, so I covered it with plastic wrap and hid it in the oven so our cat Sullivan wouldn't attack it while I was gone. I forgot about the cake, and at dinner time, I lit the oven. After several minutes at 350 degrees, the cake was hermetically sealed in a Pyrex baking dish. The family cried when I threw it away. I cussed when I tried to get the melted plastic off of the baking dish.
You can read about my biggest kitchen disaster in a post named The Cat And The Griddle that I wrote last July. It's about a breakfast adventure that no one in our household will ever forget. Click here to read the full length version. Once you read it, you probably won't forget it either!
Hopefully I've whet your appetite for strange food related stories and disasters. If you'd like to read more, pop over to Designs by Gollum. Michael Lee is the special lady who hosts Foodie Friday, and she's got Mr. Linky up and running to direct you to participating bloggers.
(Photo of the Chateau Frontenac was taken by Bernard Gagnon and is subject to the GNU Free Document License per Wikimedia Commons.)