Content ID

336735

The lutefisk cure

I lost my voice in the aftermath of my recent illness with pneumonia.

It’s not as if I was rendered entirely mute. I could croak out a raspy whisper, somewhat similar to Kevin Costner on the hit series Yellowstone. Except that you can actually understand Kevin and I don’t wear a cowboy hat. Other than that, he and I are virtually indistinguishable.

My raspy croaks were difficult to decipher. Even I had trouble understanding them, and I knew what I was trying to say.

This led to some problems. For instance, whenever I phoned anyone, the person on the other end probably thought they were getting a prank call from some weirdo who was trying to disguise his voice.

My voicelessness wasn’t entirely a bad thing, according to my wife. During my several aphonic weeks, I overheard my wife say to a friend, “I can kick him in the pants now whenever he needs it, and he can’t holler about it. It’s a win-win!” 

She had a knee replaced this summer and can now kick like a Rockette.

But there were other challenges with my gravelly and whispery vocalizations. Simple instructions could easily be misconstrued.

One day, I decided that it was time to get a haircut as my bangs were beginning to obstruct my vision and smudge my glasses. It was either get a trim or start wearing a man bun. And my wife has informed me that sporting a man bun is, legally speaking, grounds for divorce.

My usual barbershop was closed. I went to my alternate hairstylist and discovered that the wait was over an hour. I eventually opted to go to a barbershop I’d never visited before.

The lady barber draped the smock over me and asked what I had in mind. I said, “Just shorten it up a little.”

She apparently only understood the “short” part. She hauled out a humungous electric clipper – the kind that’s normally used to shear sheep – and pressed it hard against the side of my skull. The clipper made a mighty sweep upwards, groaning under the load.

It dawned on me in that moment that it didn’t matter what I wanted; I was going to get the haircut that the lady barber thought I had ordered. On the plus side, it will be six months or more before I need another haircut.

I tried every sore throat remedy known to man, but nothing could ease my scratchy voice. Happenstance presented me with a last-ditch shot at a cure.

I learned that Lake Campbell Lutheran Church was holding its annual lutefisk supper. I invited a couple of friends of ours – both lutefisk novices – to accompany my wife and me. I did this not just for the camaraderie, but also because it would prevent my wife from kicking me when she learned that my promised “evening meal out” involved lye-soaked fish.

The dining hall at Lake Campbell Lutheran was filled with the aromas of stewing sweet soup and simmering Swedish meatballs. Overlaying it all was the distinctive fragrance of steaming lutefisk. It smelled exactly like the many childhood Christmas gatherings  at my grandparents’ homes.

Our lady friend pointed at the pitchers of golden liquid that sat on every table and asked, “What’s that?” 

“It’s melted butter to pour on the lutefisk,” I replied.

“Oh, my God!” she exclaimed.

“Yeah!” I beamed. “Isn’t it great?

My wife, who believes that simply being in the same room as lutefisk is a form of punishment, noshed on the Swedish meatballs. I downed two hearty slabs of lutefisk, using a roll of lefse to chase down stray flakes and mop up leftover butter. The sweet soup was a time machine, a dead-on replica of the savory dessert my grandmothers served when I was a kid.

Our two friends politely ate their lutefisk. I noticed that they took their time, picking at it slowly, carefully examining each chunk of translucent, gelatinous fish before cautiously placing it in their mouths. I was able to down two slabs to their one but decided not to make an issue of it since they were rookies. 

During our drive home, I asked our friends what they thought of lutefisk. They both answered, “Well, it was different,” in a tone of voice that a person might use after an encounter with a skunk.

About a day after eating my fill of lutefisk, my voice abruptly returned to normal. Did one thing cause the other? I think the answer is beyond dispute.

It’s nice to be back among the vocally enabled. I just wish it had happened sooner so that I could have asked for a third helping of that miraculous cure-all called lutefisk.

About the Author

Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at workman.com/products/dear-county-agent-guy.

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