Category Archives: Family

LADIES IN THE KITCHEN

The Thanksgivings of my childhood were large, glorious affairs, which would not have happened without The Ladies in the Kitchen, hard-working, magnificent cooks, for whom one of the main goals in life was to feed people. Food was love, and the more food the greater the love.

My mother had six siblings, all with families, and four of those families lived within forty miles of each other. So we spent lots of holidays with the whole crowd – up to thirty people – taking turns at each others houses. The assortment of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and cousins-in-law was a wonder to behold. The noise level was prolific, possibly approaching the decibel level of the New York Stock Exchange. People were everywhere, and the living room became an extension of the dining room. And of course the tables sagged under the weight of all the tasty home-grown food from everyone’s farms and gardens. After a prayer of thanksgiving from Grandpa, a prayer that made us feel God’s magnificence and holiness settling over us, we dug in to the bounty, stuffing ourselves to the gills.

In the traditional manner, the men lounged in the living room, both before and after dinner, talking mostly about farming and machines and the price of cattle. The ladies did all the cooking and cleaning up afterward. It was the way things were. But not a bad thing. Because there’s a companionship that exists only among men, and another companionship that exists only among women, and sometimes you need to allow space for it.

The Ladies in the Kitchen were doing more than washing dishes. And they weren’t annoyed at The Men in the Living Room for not helping in the kitchen. After displaying their culinary prowess, the ladies were busy bonding over the gravy-smeared dishes, the crusty baking pans, and the search for enough dish towels, all evidence of the stellar job they’d done feeding everyone. They were a nurturing community, laughing together, sharing news about their kids, and comparing turkey-cooking methods. The mammoth cleanup job was happily shared among women who loved being together. Then, as the shadows grew long and darkness fell on our day of thanks, it was time to get a slice of pumpkin pie and a cup of coffee, join the men in the living room, and keep talking.

I miss those days – the feeling of being part of a huge family, hearing everybody’s story in bits and pieces as I grew up, the tangible evidence of God’s provision, knowing these were my people. Many of them are no longer living, and the cousins have scattered irretrievably. But I gratefully remember the feeling of community. The Ladies in the Kitchen are largely responsible for that.

Time and circumstances have taken me far from those huge gatherings of childhood. I have two children, and they each have two children. A rather small crowd. But food is still love, and community is still important. Because God exists in the community of the Father, Son and Spirit, and we are made in His image, we need community, too. Being in a community, even with just one other person, gives life and health.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of thankfulness. You can be thankful by yourself, but it’s pretty lonely. As I’m reading through the Psalms lately, I’m struck by how often the writer gives thanks in the midst of God’s people, proclaiming God’s goodness in community. Here’s just one example – Psalm 35:18 says “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.”

This Thanksgiving, get yourself a throng, even a small one. Invite a lonely person to be part of your throng. Feed each other with food and companionship and thankfulness. Tell each other your stories. Celebrate God’s goodness in each others lives. It’s what you were made for.

The Ladies in the Kitchen and The Men in the Living room would all approve.

MONOPOLY SENIOR

Ah, Monopoly, that endless board game. If ever there was a concrete illustration of eternity in the bad place, Monopoly is it. Recurring cycles of debt, running out of money, keeping track of all your property, mortgaging your property, hopelessness, despair, boredom, losing valuable hours of your life. So why am I back in the game these days?

It wasn’t my idea. On a Sunday afternoon, in an attempt to calm down two rambunctious boys after a wild and exhausting Nerf gun battle (in which I was an enthusiastic participant), my husband unearthed our old Monopoly game. Seriously? I asked. These boys are seven and four. The older is just learning to read. The younger is just learning to count to twenty, and has no concept of the value of money.

“Is this Monopoly Junior?” asked the seven-year-old. Monopoly Junior apparently has different rules than regular Monopoly, including an actual endpoint.

“Nope,” said Grandpa. “This is Monopoly Senior.” Which thrilled the seven-year-old. Monopoly Junior was suddenly passe.

Little did I know the appeal this game would have. Turns out both boys love Monopoly Senior, which feeds the universal love of acquiring money and property, and unmasks the greed in their little hearts. Since that inaugural Sunday, Monopoly has been a regular activity.

Each boy has a different approach to the game. The seven-year-old is all about owning as much property as possible so as to collect as much rent as possible from his opponents. But he has a generous spirit. When I ran out of money (because of paying a lot of rent, mainly to him), he sweetly offered me all of his. I refused, but he insisted. I paid it back when I passed Go.

The four-year-old is all about amassing piles of cash, which he does by refusing to buy any property until well into the game, when he observes the rest of us collecting rent on our properties. He obviously doesn’t understand the principle of spending money to make money. And if he hands the banker a $100 bill to pay the $75 Luxury Tax, and gets a $20 and a $5 as change, he believes he now has more than before he paid the tax. He gave the bank one bill and got two back.

Our emerging reader provides moments of levity, such as the first time he landed on Vermont Avenue and read it as Vomit Adventure. He was tremendously pleased with his error. Gross humor, dear to the heart of a seven-year-old boy. This is mild. I have other gross stories, which I won’t relate here, but one of them ended with two grandsons lying on their backs on the kitchen floor, at my feet, laughing hysterically at their own grossness.

My husband grew up playing Monopoly by throwing all tax money, fees, and fifty dollar bills used to get out of jail onto the middle of the board. The player who lands on Free Parking claims the wad of cash in the middle. This is something all players hope for, but only serves to make eternity even longer. Just when you think the game is mercifully winding down, someone lands on Free Parking and away we go.

But I am a capitalist, and I do believe Monopoly is good practice for the real world of capitalism. Here we learn the consequences of poor management – when you buy more property than you can afford (see greed above) you’re left with nothing to pay your debts and have to start mortgaging said property. When the seven-year-old achieved a monopoly and purchased the coveted hotel, he was smacked in the face with huge property assessments, and later with the realization that nobody could afford his exorbitant rent.

How do you stay in the game, build your assets and still have enough cash to pay your bills? This is Life Skills 101. And the whole idea of playing games, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, is an opportunity to realize that your essential worth as a person is the same whether you end the game with a lot, a little or nothing at all. This is hard to stomach when you’re the loser and the winner is rubbing his hands together, gloating, but it’s still true. Better to learn it early in life.

I’m hoping the Monopoly phase will pass. I find it horribly dull. brightened only by the enthusiasm of two hilarious boys, and the pleasure of spending time in their company. For that I’ll stick it out.

And here’s to Vomit Adventure, which will hereafter replace Vermont Avenue on my Monopoly board.

OUTFOXING THE FOX

Wolves and foxes are figuring prominently in my life these days, due to my three-year-old grandson’s obsession with “The Three Little Pigs.” He’s not afraid of the wolf. He loves the wolf. We build block towers over and over, which he designates as houses built of straw, sticks or bricks, and then proceeds to huff and puff until he blows them down. Even the brick ones, which strictly speaking are supposed to withstand the wolf’s huffing and puffing. The blowing is supplemented by head-butting in order to get the job done.

Wolves are akin to foxes, those handsome animals that are forever prowling about looking for poultry to devour. In picture books, the fox often gets outfoxed in humorous ways. A favorite of ours is “The Rooster and the Fox,” (Helen Ward) in which the proud and arrogant rooster Chanticleer is seized by the neck by the equally proud and arrogant fox. Chanticleer does some clever thinking, tricking the fox into opening his mouth to declare his own cleverness. When the fox’s mouth opens, Chanticleer escapes. Another fox story is “That is Not a Good Idea!” (Mo Willems), in which the fox concocts a plan to seduce a fat goose into coming to his house to help him make soup. The fox intends for the goose to be the main ingredient, but in a delightful twist ends up in the soup himself.

But I have another tale in mind, a story about actual foxes and chickens on the farm of my childhood.

Each spring my mom ordered one hundred fluffy yellow chicks. They were delivered to town on the train, brought home, and kept warm in the house for several days under brooder lamps. Our kitchen was temporary home to a delightful mass of peeping cuteness. We kids knew the chicks were meant to be eaten eventually, and it didn’t bother us. That’s life on the farm. After a few days they were relocated to the chicken coop, and thus began the long season of raising them to juicy adulthood. They were allowed to run loose around the farm yard during the day, scratching and pecking for bugs and worms. At dusk the door to the coop was left open, and they all went home to roost.

The summer I was nine or so, there were several hungry foxes lurking in the tree rows at the edge of the yard. Dad would report seeing them in the fields when he was cultivating or spraying for weeds. As the summer wore on, one or two of them made the bold move of taking a midday foray into the yard and snatching a chicken. Unusual, because this is normally a nocturnal activity. Which is why the chickens were safely ensconced in the coop at night.

It was a night in late August, a week before the planned chicken butchering party, an annual event for my mom and her sisters. That night my parents attended a different annual event – the grain elevator meeting and dinner. This was a huge social gathering as well, not to be missed. A sweet, grandmotherly neighbor lady arrived to babysit my brothers and me. Careful instructions were given to her to remember to let the chickens into the coop before we all went to bed, and off Mom and Dad went.

I don’t remember anything about what ensued, except for what I was told later. My parents returned from their partying well after midnight. As they drove into the yard, they discovered a sea of plump, feathered bodies littering the yard. Can you see it? White feathers glinting under the full moon, the bodies still warm from the kill (I have no idea if the moon was full or not. But it makes a better story). An entire summer’s worth of chicken-raising in anticipation of an entire year’s worth of chicken and dumplings, gone. And the fact that the chickens would have been plucked, gutted and in the freezer in just a few days made the whole affair so much worse.

There was nothing to do but leave the corpses lying in state until morning. Except that by morning every chicken had vanished, dragged off by the foxes. The exception was one traumatized hen who’d flown into a tree during the massacre. She refused to come down for three days.

Our poor grandmotherly neighbor was horrified at what she’d forgotten to do. But honestly, herding around four kids must have taken all her concentration. Plus, she was almost deaf (I remember, because her hearing aids were always whistling), and didn’t hear the chickens’ frantic screams for help. So I don’t see it as her fault, and neither did my parents. Somehow we got through that winter without chicken. And during spring plowing, Dad unearthed piles of chicken bones.

In real life we don’t always outfox the fox. But life goes on anyway. There will be another spring, bringing a new batch of fluffy yellow chicks. But in the world of stories my grandson and I celebrate either the demise of foxes and wolves, or their victory, depending on what mood he’s in. Which is exactly how it should be when you’re three.