Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A story of home

In the sixties, my great-grandparents purchased a few acres in Colorado, with a house that's smaller than my current apartment, and a good barn. This corner of land was named "The Pea Patch." My mother and sister went to college not too far away, and spent their weekends with grandparents. The barn was famous for sleepovers and family dinners, and grandchildren brought home many friends who had no where else to go for weekends and holidays. My great-grandmother served everyone on styrofoam plates, and loved them like family. However, if you defaced your styrofoam plate, you would face Grannie's wrath - after each gathering, she carefully collected the styrofoam plates and washed them in the dishwasher (without the drying cycle) to reuse.

 In honor of my great-grandparents' 80th birthday, their friends and family came together for a huge party- and brought recipes. This became the first edition of the Pea Patch cookbook. Time passed....my great-grandfather died, my great-grandmother wasn't doing so great on her own, and my grandparents moved to the Pea Patch. There was a massive celebration of my great-grandmother's 90th birthday, with a second edition of the Pea Patch Cookbook, and of her 95th birthday, when there were t-shirts for all family members. She was 97 when she died, and utterly beloved.

 My grandparents remained at the Pea Patch, where grandchildren slept in the barn and played in the yard at every opportunity. There were horses, Shelties, a compost pile almost the size of my bedroom, a vegetable garden, and a storm cellar. My grandparents had six meals a day- Breakfast, Coffee Break, Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Supper, and Bedtime Snack. During these meals, family and friends came together, and my grandparents served things they made themselves. Homemade yogurt, topped with homemade granola and homemade syrup was what we had for breakfast at Grandma&Grandpa's. The garden supplied enough corn, green beans, and peas to be frozen and used through the year.

 In recent years, it's slowed down...my grandfather developed Alzheimer's, and has been in assisted living for almost two years now. My grandmother still lives at the Pea Patch. A grandson and his friends managed some much-needed repairs on the roof last summer. Her letters continue to be packed with details about the weather, what's growing, what needs to be fixed, and what the grand-kids are up to. When I was in my early twenties this bothered me- because I felt that I didn't know my grandmother, that these were things you'd talk to a stranger about. As I've gotten older, I've realized that these details are in many ways, the foundation of life: home, and the people who gather there. Home is the place we come together,the place we prepare to nourish others (through growing things, fixing things and cooking, in my family's case) the place we share our food, the place where we welcome strangers and transform them into friends.

 There's another story that could be told here...the story of my parents and how they created a home with their missionary friends, and the Peruvians they ministered to , in a place far from their families and radically different from all that was familiar. Maybe I'll tell that story one day. But for now, I'll leave you with my husband and I,trying to make our graduate student apartment home. We're here, throwing slipcovers over 20 year old furniture, growing odds and ends of vegetables and herbs on the front porch (presently kale,parsley,cilantro basil, arugula, and eggplant), hanging pictures and drinking tea. Every chance I get (which isn't often) I have a cooking frenzy and invite a crowd of graduate students and other youngish adults to our apartment for the sake of breaking bread and drinking wine together. And on the top shelf of my bookshelf sits a copy of the Pea Patch cookbook - containing the mints my mother made each Christmas, my Aunt Kimberly's oatmeal cookies, and my grandmother's date pudding (as a bonus,the Pea Patch cookbook also tells me how to make library paste, play-dough, and wiper fluid).
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Here's my husband, in our kitchen, trying to make great-grandmother's buttermilk candy.

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