It could be worse

Prairie Wool

Helen Row Toews

Soundlessly, the doors of the Italian restaurant closed out the warm July evening behind us and a well-dressed host showed us to a table for three. This summer my family enjoyed a few short days in the Rocky Mountains and this was our final evening. I gazed through the windows beside us, appreciating a view of the magnificent peaks as they glowed in the last orange rays of sun.

Until daughter Aliyah hissed in my ear that is.

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“Mom, have you looked at the prices?” She pointed at her menu where each plate averaged $40 - $50. Yikes!

I looked around furtively, wondering if it was too late to duck out a side door, when my eyes were drawn to the artistically arranged pinnacles of food arriving for folks nearby, who sat back with smiles as Champagne was popped, candles were lit and a quiet air of wealth and sophistication settled on the room.

What were we doing there?

Before we could make a move, however, a waiter appeared with tinkling goblets of iced water. We were trapped. Claiming we weren’t as hungry as previously thought, we each ordered an appetizer, gobbled it down and skedaddled.

It was bad, but I’ve done worse. Let me tell you about it.

A long time ago, as teenagers, a friend and I travelled to Banff for the long-weekend. We were poor, had driven her rusted-out ’73 Datsun, and had scuffed around for two days in sneakers and frayed, bell-bottom jeans. Then, foolishly we decided to culminate our adventure with a fine dining experience. I knew nothing of fine-dining. (Eating out for my family had consisted of a squashed trip to the A&W drive-in diner.) But I digress.

I knew we didn’t belong there as soon as Carol and I entered. Heads swivelled to stare in amazement as we slopped through the door, and the reluctant hostess sniffed disapprovingly as she led us to a table in the middle of a room where the décor exuded affluence and good taste. So did the patrons — until we arrived.

“Argh, couldn’t we have sat at a cardboard box in the cloakroom?” I whispered to my friend, but Carol was nonplussed. She smiled winningly at a waiter, and beckoned him over.

“They have to treat us just like everyone else,” she muttered to me. “We could be loaded, they don’t know. Let’s order extravagantly and shock ‘em.”

Following her lead, I ordered steak and lobster and then sat quietly with downcast eyes, trying not to attract attention. Thankfully, the room of people took no further notice of us, and I’d just begun to entertain thoughts of a delicious dinner and unobserved escape, when the linen napkin I’d been fussing with dipped into my butter burner and the whole business burst into a flaming ball of fire!

I dropped it with a yelp and every eye turned to focus on me as the blaze illuminated my frightened features. Waiters ran from the kitchen. The hostess grabbed a fire extinguisher. People leapt to their feet as hunks of smouldering cloth floated up into the flickering light of the chandeliers and sizzled down onto their tables.

And the flames leapt higher. Snatching up our pitcher of water, I dashed it into the bonfire and then sat down, horrified, as bits of ash, lobster shells and water gushed onto my lap and puddled on the floor around me.

Don’t ever doubt me when I say it could be worse.

Why not give a smile this Christmas? Helen’s newly released books of humorous anecdotes can be found at Amazon under Prairie Wool Books or through her website

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