The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 15, 2012

Tom Lavis | Condiment at root of digestive woes


— The telephone rang at 6 a.m. Monday.

“Who could be calling at this hour?” my wife asked.

Grabbing the portable phone, I waited for the caller ID to illuminate.

It was Crutch Crupnik.

For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what he wanted at that hour, unless something was wrong.

“I hope nothing is wrong,” my wife said, using her powers of telepathy to read my mind as she does so often.

I had been up for about half an hour, so the ringing phone didn’t wake me.

Nothing is more scary than getting a phone call in the middle of the night. Unless it’s the annoying phone calls we have been getting from presidential campaign committees begging for money to “push our candidate over the top.”

I used a cheery voice to greet Crutch.

“Hey buddy, what are you doing up so so early – since you have the day off?” I asked.

“I have been up all night because my stomach has been doing jumping jacks,” he said, with obvious pain in his voice.

As soon as he said that, I knew why he called.

Crutch had stopped by our house late Sunday afternoon to wish us a happy Easter and to check if there were any leftovers.

While I’m sure he was looking for some apple pie topped with ice cream, I talked him into having a ham sandwich before dessert.

I placed a plate of ham and cheese on the table along with a pack of sandwich buns, and I asked what condiment he would like.

“Spicy dark mustard, if you have it,” he said.

“I’ve  got something even better,” I told him.

I went to the fridge and pulled out an airtight container of homemade horseradish.

It’s difficult to find flaming hot horseradish.

But the stuff in the small bowl was so spicy that it was best dished out with an asbestos fork.

I got wind of a guy who makes the hottest horseradish in a four-county area.

I discovered that the potent mixture is concocted in the back room of a small delicatessen, within the confines of fire-retardent walls.

Crutch said he hadn’t had hot horseradish since his grandmother, Bubba Martina, passed away, taking her recipe with her to the grave.

He said she grew horseradish in her garden and used it in recipes and home remedies.

“Anytime I had a head cold, my bubba would give me a helping of homemade horseradish,” Crutch said.

When I asked him if it helped, he said it must have because after he regained consciousness, he felt better but had a runny nose and bright red cheeks.

“She would take off her babushka and wipe the sweat from my forehead,” Crutch recalled.

Red-hot horseradish has been raising the heat on sandwiches and clearing the sinuses of my family for years.

People have discovered that horseradish can battle congestion, coughs from colds, sinus infections and probably acne.

It also can eat through drywall if mishandled.

Crutch slathered his ham sandwich with a heaping helping of the red, course condiment.

His first bite was nearly his last.

I swear Crutch’s ears began to glow and his nose started to drip.

He began breathing heavily – almost hyper-ventilating. 

Crutch flashed me a horseradish-eating grin, which is the same look a man would have if he were facing the executioner and had to choose between being shot or hanged.

He ate his entire ham sandwich – even under such masochistic conditions.

I helped him to his truck and wished him a happy Easter.

I didn’t expect the predawn phone call the next day.

“I have half a mind to sue you because I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” he said.

I asked him what I would be charged with – endangering the welfare of a beer gut?

“Aggravated assault on my digestive tract,” he said.

I’m glad I didn’t offer him my habanero and jalapeno salsa.

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