CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATTE STORE
“Careful!” I shouted over to my friend Charlie. “You’re swaying on that ladder like a metronome!”
“Thanks Mom” he replied. “You just handle your end of those lights.”
It was two days after Christmas and the Hamers were already taking down the lights and decorations that Charlie had so recently put into place with his usual eye for perfection. I had no idea how he had accomplished this task by himself, and so I asked him how he had done it.
“Caroline helped me put all of this up” he replied. “She has a better eye for detail and the aesthetic than I do.”
I doubted that statement. Charlie Hamer has such a definite knack for attention to detail that I once accused him of having been toilet trained at gunpoint. That being said, I also knew that Charlie’s wife, Caroline, also had a keen sense of what she wanted, and I was certain that she truly had played a considerable role in arranging the display. How big a part she played in the actual installation of those lights however is what I had my doubts about.
“So” I asked, “did she supervise while you put this up?”
“Nope” he replied. “She got up on a ladder and pitched in.”
“Wow man, I’m impressed!” I shouted to him. “This end has to be eight feet up. It didn’t bother her?”
“Why should it have?” he shouted back. “She wasn’t on your end. She was on mine.”
Charlie and Caroline’s house is build on a hill. The front of the house is at street level, or maybe just a bit higher, but the northwest corner of the back of the house rises to a height of twenty feet. The triple extension ladder upon which Charlie was now perched was lodged against the fence between his and his neighbor’s property, and soared up at an uncomfortably steep angle to just above the roof of the house.
“You’re kidding me, right?” I asked.
“Nope” he answered. “So stop your whining and let’s get these lights down. I don’t like it up here any more than you do.”
An hour later we had finished our task. The lights had been catalogued, rolled up neatly, and stashed in plastic bins. We had returned to the dining room, where it was a good deal warmer and safer than dangling eight to twenty feet in the air on a thirty six degree day with a ten mile per hour wind. Charlie and I were seated at the table and Caroline was finishing the assembly of a platter of leftover baked ham, pickles, cheeses, crackers vegetables and other goodies.
“Caroline,” I said. “Why did you want to take these lights down so soon? Putting them up had to be a bigger job even than taking them down was.”
We’re replacing them” Caroline replied. “We’re getting rid of the old incandescent lights and getting LED ones.”
“Why?” I asked. “Isn’t it wasteful to throw away good lights?”
“No, it isn’t” she replied as she brought the platter over to the table. “It’s more wasteful to keep burning the old lights. We’ll put up the LED’s next year. We’ll sell the old ones, and what we get for them plus what I estimate we’ll save on electricity, we’ll give to Share House. They’ll use that money to help people who don’t have a house to put any lights on in the first place.”
“You’re a saint” I said, and then as I took my first bite of ham and cheese with jalapeño jelly between two crackers I added “and an angel.”
Don’t talk with your mouth full” she said laughing, as she brushed off my compliment. “You boys eat while I fix us up with some hot chocolate.”
“Hot chocolate?” I responded, ignoring her instruction about talking with my mouth full. “I don’t think hot chocolate is really my favorite beverage to have with a feast like this.”
“Don’t speak to quickly” she replied. “And don’t speak with your mouth full. Are you hard of hearing? I’ve got a little surprise for you both, so just eat and let me work.”
“A surprise?” Charlie asked, pretending to be hurt by this revelation. “I thought that we weren’t going to keep secrets from each other.”
“A girl’s entitled to one or two secrets, Charlie Hamer” she replied with a playful sniff. Now you two just help yourselves while I put on the finishing touches.”
Charlie and I applied ourselves to the platter of goodies, and after a few minutes and several more ham-and-cracker sandwiches she set two steaming mugs of brown fluid in front of us. “Hot Chocolate, boys” she said, and then returned to the kitchen, where she picked up a small plate and brought it over to the table. “And truffles. Dig in.”
“Uh, thanks Caroline” I said, “but I’m not really a big chocolate guy.”
“Yeah, I know. You only like coffee thick as mud. Manly stuff. Well, like my nephew once said about sushi; ‘Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.’”
I looked over at Charlie, who had already picked up his mug of chocolate and was blowing on it to cool it down. “You drink this stuff?” I asked.
“I do when Caroline sets it down in front of me” he replied. “She’s usually right about things like this.”
I looked at Charlie skeptically, then down at my chocolate, and then back at Caroline. “So, did you try the sushi?” I asked.
“Yep” was her one-word answer, which I matched with a similar one-word question.
“And?” I asked.
“And I told him that it tasted like crap. Prometheus went to all that trouble to steal some fire from the gods and give it to us, it makes no sense to me not to use a little of it to cook our food. Still, I earned the right to judge it by trying it.” She nodded at me as if her statement had sealed all conversation on the matter. “Your turn.”
I couldn’t argue with her logic, so I picked up the mug, blew on it for a minute or two, and then took a sip. Instantly I felt like a kid again. “Wow, this is good! I don’t usually like candy and stuff like that, but this is good.”
“I thought that you’d like it” Caroline said just a little bit smugly. “And just wait until you try your truffle.”
“Do I have to?” I asked.
“Do you have to what?” she asked.
“Do I have to wait?”
“It’s customary to have dessert after the main course” she said, ‘but we don’t stand on formality here. Knock yourself out.”
I picked up a truffle from the plate and looked it over. It was a smallish ball of chocolate dusted with crumbs of some sort. “What is this one?” I asked.
“That’s a rum with hazelnut” Caroline replied. “Thats hazelnut bits that the truffle’s dusted with.”
I took a small bite and allowed the chocolate to melt in my mouth, releasing the flavors of chocolate, sugar, rum and nuts. The ingredients blended as the chocolate melted and became one unique, delicious flavor. “Did you make these?” I asked.
“Wish I could” she replied. “There’s a little place on Main Street, just south of Mill Plain Boulevard, called Fleur Chocolatte. It’s where Compass Coffee used to be.”
“Oh, yeah. I know where you mean. West side of Main, right?”
“Yep. That’s the place. The guy who owns it used to be an ironworker. Now he mixes and blends and dips some of the best chocolates in Vancouver.”
“Ironworker, eh?” Charlie cut in. “Those are some tough guys. Tough as nails.”
“I suppose” Caroline said. “This one has a pretty good touch, and makes a respectable cup of coffee, too.”
I took another sip of the hot chocolate, which had by now cooled enough to drink. I like for my hot drinks to be less than boiling, and now I could fully appreciate the full, rich flavor of the chocolate and sugar and; what was that other flavor? I had to ask.
“A little butter and cream” was her answer. I got that idea from Mike. You like it?”
“Mike?” Charlie asked.
“Yes. The owner’s name is Mike. He’s there all day, making and selling the chocolate and coffee.”
“Well I like it a lot” I told her. “Is it super expensive?”
“That depends on what you call super expensive. It’s no more than any other coffee place. I suppose that if you judge it by the cost of a cup of coffee at Leroy’s,” and at that Caroline wrinkled her nose in exaggerated disgust, “yeah, it’s expensive.”
“Now don’t go knocking Leroy’s” Charlie interposed. “Best darned grease in Vancouver. Don’t knock it until you try it,” and at that Charlie and I shared a high five.
“Pigs will fly first” Caroline sniffed. “The truffles cost what any other treat at a coffee shop would cost. No, I don’t think it’s expensive at all.”
By now Charlie had picked up and devoured his own truffle; a brandy and raspberry concoction. “Are there any more?” he asked.
“Not here in the kitchen, but there’s plenty more down at Fleur Chocolatte. Maybe you can pick some up the next time you come back from Leroy’s.”
“Maybe I will,” Charlie replied. “Maybe I will.”