Someone asked me recently if I was a writer. I mean, I do write, but no, I’m not. I’m a professional caterer. Always have been. It’s in my DNA. On both sides! This goes back all the way to the ice age. In fact, in one of my first lives, I was a feast leader! Today you’d call that a catering captain.
I was a man, not that a woman couldn’t have done that job, it’s just that all women were either pregnant or breastfeeding all the time. People died often. Many in a day. That’s why the great feast was so important.
There are cave drawings that depict this event! Funny how often scholars think they’re anything other than a catered feast to celebrate the end of the moon cycle and the fact that some were still alive!
I wasn’t always a man in my lives, I was a woman in the 15 and 1600’s but I kept getting burned as a witch. One time, I was just a baby and I pointed and said a word. Burned.
My name was Groog. I was 17 years old, a middle aged man of the times, in 1600 BC. Here’s what I remember about one of the biggest feasts of my life.
It was a particularly cold day but thankfully not snowing. I could tell because the pelts covering the entrance to my cave were still. My 16 year old wife, Zta, was already bustling around the cave.
Our 1 year old twin boys, Ru and Ka were crawling after each other, we had to line our floor with pelts for this and only this reason. Our older daughter Zte, 4, was sitting at the stone slab table playing “feast”with her two twig dolls. Zta had made a fire. I felt the warmth on my beard and it made me want to just stay under the mammoth pelts but I couldn’t. It was a big day. Lots to do.
I threw the pelts off and made myself get up. “They’re already hunting” Zta looked over the fire at me. “Don’t forget your face mud.” I’d walk out of the cave with nothing but my under furs if not for her. “Right!” I went to grab my face mud from my fur lined bone supply trunk when I heard Zta sigh. She pointed to our stone slab table. “You left it there. I told you if you did that again, I wasn’t going to put it away. If it’s frozen…” I cut her off, “That’s on me.”
We’d had this argument many times. She was right. She’d told me she didn’t have the energy to keep the kids alive, keep a fire going and pick up after me. I grabbed it, it was in fact frozen. I cursed myself. I was the one that told the staff they had to show up in full face mud and here I was, facially ill prepared.
“I’ll hold it under my arm on the way over to the banquet cave.” I don’t know why I told her this. “M’kay”. She said. She was annoyed. Normally I would’ve been the first one up and grinding berries for breakfast but we had a set up the day before. One of the stones we used to prop up the main table slab cracked and we had to take the whole thing apart and rebuild it. We were working well after sun down.
“After today, it’s back to normal. I promise!” She sighed again and poured some bone broth into my bowl. “Put your face mud under your bowl.” Of course! That will get it to melt even faster! Zta, before our kids, was the best event organizer. Always two steps ahead! Now that she wasn’t with me at work, any time I had a problem I didn’t know how to solve, I always thought, what would Zta do?
I held the face mud under my bowl as I slurped the broth. I could taste some extra berries in it. I glanced at Zta. She smiled. She knew extra berries were my absolute favorite thing. Just like my mom used to do before any celebration.
Zte started laughing so hard she almost fell off her tree trunk stool. For some Reason, me eating was the funniest thing she’d ever seen.
I grabbed my fur tie and fastened it around my waist, tucked my slightly thawed face mud under my arm and headed out.
The labor crew was already hard at work, digging and flattening snow, making paths for the twig parade. That’s when the older children carry bushels of kindling for the main fire pit in the center of our village. Zte couldn’t wait to be old enough to do that.
I had already decided to put Yaan in charge of watching the ceremony. He’d blow the horn when the fire was lit and we’d know it was time to start carving. I made a point to look straight ahead and move faster when I saw Que. Nice guy but always wanted to talk to me about something he heard about someone else. He always started with some comment about the weather.
“Groog! Hey there!” I tried to ignore him but he caught up with me. “Not as cold today huh?” It was. “Good thing it’s not snowing!” I had to agree with him there. “I have to agree with you there!” Damnit! “How bout those hunters this morning!” No-one could resist hunter drama. He was clever. “What do you mean?”
“Well…”. He always looked around as if he were giving me top secret information when we both knew he’d have told everyone by sundown. “Apparently, Lom got drunk and told Pol that he wanted to hit on his wife, with his club, and drag her into his cave!” This was shocking! Clubbing had been banned for a long time. In fact, the only time I’d ever heard about clubbing was when people talked about Neanderthals. We were Homo’s. Civilized. “Whoa! That’s crazy! Listen, I’m in a rush but talk later? After the feast?” Que nodded and went back to flattening.
When I got to the banquet cave, Joog was already there, checking the position of the sun, in full face mud.
Part 2, Full Face Mud, available now!