Had it been “duck, lobster or lamb chop night,” there’s a fair chance that I wouldn’t have even chimed in. My knowledge of such delicacies is as limited as my Aunt Maude’s is about golf.
Instead, I jumped right into the mix in the same light-headed manner Maude did upon hearing the hullabaloo about Tiger Woods. She said she knows so little about golf, she’s “not sure which end of the caddie to hold.” Enough about Tiger’s “rough” experience.
This commentary concerns “steak night” on a cruise ship to the Panama Canal. Seated at a table with three “non-Texan” couples, my wife and I were stung by strong comments made by an Illinoisan. He claimed to be in a group back home that serves up equally great steaks four times annually. This came across as a challenge, and I felt obligated to speak up, loud and clear, about steaks grilled by Texans. Alas, I made a colossal “mis-steak.”…
It seemed my duty to defend the honor of Texans, dating back to the infancy of the Old West, who’ve “grilled the best steaks we’ve ever lapped lips over.”
And, Texan or not, I wanted to stand up for the Island Princess chefs who got all meals “right” without exception – including “steak night.”
Without my Stetson hat and nary a Confederate bugle to blow, I turned on my best Texas accent. I spoke slowly, “semi-snarling” my words, confident that I’d soon have this Illinois guy up the creek without a paddle….
Mere moments later, I was the one who was sinking. His is a “give-away deal” for injured veterans. The top quality steaks he described are purchased, prepared and served by members of the Knights of Columbus from Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Carol Stream, Ill. (“Top quality” doesn’t seem to do justice. These are Kobe steaks, top dollar cuts introduced in Japan from Wagyu cattle.)
Recipients of their generosity are injured veterans in the spinal ward at nearby Hines VA Hospital, and the nurses who attend them.
On a recent visit, the Knights served “cooked to order” steaks for 40 vets and 10 nurses. They also gifted the patients with sweatshirts, and heard a report on two vets who competed in the recent Special Olympics in Spokane, Wash.
They led the applause for the four bronze medals the vets brought back. After all, the Knights financed the trip….
The meals are orchestrated by a Knight who is head chef at a swanky country club.
Like the mail, the steaks “must go through.” Typically, the dozen or so Knights board a pair of vans, all cooking gear in tow. After processing through security, they grill on the grounds adjacent to the spinal ward. The weather? No matter. They sometimes grill in the snow.
Vets able to do so roll their wheelchairs into the cafeteria, where tables are lowered from the ceiling to accommodate them….
On one of the visits, 40 vets and 10 nurses were fed. That night, nine patients were able to gather in the cafeteria, but of that number, only seven could feed themselves the cut-up portions. The other two could but move their lips and swallow, thus providing a literal example of “spoon fed.”
The other 31 patients ate from trays delivered to their rooms. Whatever dining assistance each needed was lovingly provided.
When the honorees and nurses were all fed, the Knights ate, too….
My friend got misty-eyed telling the story. “These meals make the men and women at the hospital know that we care, and this labor of love strengthens the Knights every time, making us want to do more.”
By the time he’d finished, we knew more about the meals in detail…how the steak is the finest they can buy…side dishes of asparagus and potatoes…bread and butter…and for dessert, kolacky, of course.
I dared not admit that I didn’t know a “kolacky” from a front-end loader – at least not spelled “thataway.” Maybe I had one thing over on him – I doubt that he had ever sopped up Ribbon Cane syrup with a fluffy homemade biscuit….
Needless to say, upon hearing the account, there was no offense to be found. What had seemed to matter early on in “steak night” conversation, no longer did.
My friend closed out the evening by mentioning that he’s teaching his grandchildren how to bake kolacky. He’s interested in having this culinary art passed on. And he enjoys giving them away.
We left the magnificent dining area thankful for much, particularly military veterans whose sacrifices we can only begin to understand. In a crowded elevator, I found myself whistling “America, the Beautiful.” And thinking of a familiar scripture, Matthew 25:40: “…Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”…
Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org His Web site is www.