Her eyes were brown with an ebullient twinkle that winked occasionally when she spoke in wisdom quips. “You can only do the right thing, the next best thing is always the right thing,” Betty said breaking out in a little laugh that defied any impending difficulty. “Are you willing to let her get away with that? ” she asked.
“With what, a harsh and narrow opinion of the world at large? She doesn’t know the larger world, she’s never been there, traveled, or gone past the Greenville bridge; how could she know?” I always thought it was odd that people had such sure opinions of life-based only on their rural perceptions. Including myself, I wasn’t sure of new thoughts of places until I visited them and got to know them better. People see their lives through their own experiences and not having had many different ones how could they ever be in a place of understanding?
“One can only fit in a keyhole if one is willing to take on the shape of the key, the slight bumps and gaps that fit into the hole to turn the lock might be too big, too wide, or too new ain’t going to get it.” She folded a cup of chicken stock into the flour, careful not to overwork it, added a little salt and a bunch of pepper. She rolled it out with a floured rolling pin, on a dusted counter of all-purpose flour till it was an eighth inch thick, and began to cut it in diagonals.
“People are like dumplings, all different sizes but when they are put into the soup they make something all together tasty in the same pot.”
“So I see, people are the sum of the soup they came from?” I laughed, pleased that I got her metaphor, and happy to spend some time with this great lady who was making time to teach me the culinary tradition of chicken and dumplings.“Now we set them out to dry for ten minutes, bring the pot to a boil, then pull them apart slowly, stretching them to the max, and then drop them in one by one.” Her skill was exacting with a quick flair that rivaled Julia Child. I marveled at how they puffed as they popped up in the rolling broth. “Let them boil for 10 minutes then add the chicken.” She had cooked the chicken earlier, boned and shredded it in long strands. The succulent scent lingered in the kitchen with mouthwatering homeyness. I felt a kinship with her, a family bond growing, and for the first time a real feeling of belonging in this new world I was living in.
“Get involved, maybe a church or a club of some kind to join?” she suggested.
“Yeah, maybe so.” I was raised Lutheran, my grandparents were devoted Lutherans and my great grandfather on my Dad’s side help found the Swedish Lutheran church in Minneapolis. We went to church sometimes, Sunday school as young kids, had been baptized and confirmed, but on regular church Sundays we stayed home. Dad was a scientist by nature, quantum physics and Einstein was his go-to. Mother wasn’t comfortable in groups, she was a private person who believed faith was a personal relationship with God. It was all about how one lived their lives and treated each other.
She returned to church services when a young pastor arrived who wove everyday life with spiritual and biblical understanding, something she could resonate with that applied to her life, not ancient stories. Dad thought much of the real;y interesting things had been deleted by the churches to control the common man and institutionalize divisions; he believed that nature and life itself is where God truly lived. Their fellowship was with their neighbors and Jesus was a teacher. I felt the same and my spiritual roots were found in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Leo and I had programs for our wedding and Gibran’s prose on Marriage was on the cover.
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:For the pillars of the temple stand apart,And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Our music began with a hymn, We Gather Together, I wanted the community to be a part of our ceremony and I felt this was the best way to bring us all together to start our lives off together. It was a first in the Portland Methodist Church. We had a candlelight service with candles in the windows. It is the only time I remember the windows being opened a bit. The evening April air filled the room with a sweet spring fragrance and gently flickered throughout our unity candle ceremony. It was a blend of traditional and our modern-day that we treasured. Pastor Kilgore wouldn’t allow contemporary music but after some determined input by Dorothy Young as to how it was our wedding and not his, he agreed to her playing the sheet music of Longer Than by Dan Fogelberg.
How far along the stones of memories stay before they are cast away downstream, replaced with others, and become a different bank? Depending on rain, or exploring footsteps that walked their shores to kick or skip away, stones with genie lamps, stones with the fools gold of promise unrequited, stones shaped like hearts that fell at our feet. Everyone I ever met is in this, and every odd dumpling I ever made is a part of my soup. Sit down, enjoy for all are welcomed here.
*Excerpt from Northern Bell, a Memoir of living in the South in the 1980s by Laura Botsford