Dear Son,

So, Dad shared the news that I am now Kodiak’s food critic; I heard you got a chuckle out of it.

My new mission must seem droll compared to the excitement you’ve had, with your handling of Composition C-4 and the Humvee Rollover Training and all. But truly it is the most fun I’ve had since your Great Aunt Bess lost her teeth at the county fair.

And I’ve gained a certain amount of (dare I say?) popularity.

Remember how, when I used to request help with my work, everyone would scatter like water bugs? I had to make like the Little Red Hen and do it all myself?

Well, now I can scarcely get my pencil sharpened before someone comes along offering assistance.

Just the other day Dad and Sis both wanted to help, so we all hopped in the truck and headed down to El Chicano’s, where I managed to do research and feed the family in one fell swoop.

(I’m learning how to multitask, which is why I can write a letter and a column at the same time!)

I hadn’t been to El Chicano’s since you started earning your own spending money and hanging out there with your friends. You never asked me not to go to your watering hole. But I was young once, Son; you didn’t have to.

Don’t worry. I never call the restaurant “El Chicano’s” when I am speaking in front of people your age. I know it’s called “Elchi’s” with your crowd.

You might be wondering why we drove when the restaurant is so close to home. Well, remember the autumn downpours in Kodiak? Dad pulled up alongside the restaurant entrance so Sis and I wouldn’t get wet walking across the parking lot. But there are still no gutters along the overhang, so we got doused anyway.

In other words, things at home have changed very little since you left. The restaurant’s festive but a little worn around the edges, and, yes, the seat is still duct-taped in your favorite booth.

The menu is identical. Remember your favorite, the bacon cheeseburger burrito? I guess Dad misses you a lot, because he actually ordered it! And he groused the whole time about how burritos aren’t authentic Mexican food, and bacon cheeseburgers certainly aren’t served south of Houston. He polished off his supper all the same, so I guess it was pretty darned good.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is your sister’s fixation with chicken strips. She seemed to enjoy her supper, though she somewhat snobbishly proclaimed that Elchi’s strips were only the second-best in town. She would know, wouldn’t she?

You’ll get a thump out of how my menu choice emerged.

I was looking over the menu, and my eye kept hanging up on an item labeled blackened chicken salad. Oh, how I deplore typos on restaurant menus!

Still, this one intrigued me. Was the name describing chicken made crispy by grilling?

Or was it meat taken from the black end of a chicken?

I ordered the salad. I confess I was happy to find out that the word intended was “blackened.” It was, indeed, crispy and juicy at the same time. The lettuce was a little tired. I was able to liven it a little with the addition of about a tablespoon of hot salsa. (See, Mom plays with explosive compounds, too!)

In closing, I’ll tell you one thing has changed: the ladies bathroom. I never shared this with you, but Elchi’s bathroom stalls were once my most reliable source of information about who was doing what to whom on Kodiak Island.

Well, the stalls have been repainted! This means two things. One, I have to find another source of gossip. Two, I can now allow Sis to use the potty at El Chicano’s.

And that’s the news from home. Write soon. Mom.

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