Three Sisters and a Kilt Salad
Ellesa Clay High
Preston County, West Virginia
Winter has set in, yet cars slide over snow-crusted ruts toward my home, half a mile from paved road. This evening I welcome friends to celebrate some Appalachian hospitality and tenacity.
These West Virginia ridges persist, ancient, inhabited for thousands of seasons. Our blessing, partly in Shawnee, thanks God and connects us to the animals and plants that gave their lives so we can eat. On my stove bubbles a stew of the “three sisters” – corn, beans, and squash – an eastern woodland tradition.
Dean and Lois Christopher live on a farm that has sustained six generations. Lois has baked rolls the “old way” with potato water and sugar as the starter. “Nothing was wasted back then, not even the water used to boil potatoes,” she recalls. These rolls twang with memory.
Mike Costello and Amy Dawson have driven about two hours from their farm with a “kilt greens” salad. Kale and mustard buds are massaged with hot bacon grease, “killing” them. Topped with squash seeds, salt-roasted radishes, Arkansas Black apples, and salt-rising bread croutons, the salad is dressed with a vinaigrette of herbs and hickory syrup.
At the table end sits my son, Clay Johnson, a decorated veteran, and his four-year-old daughter, Lilia Coreen. The future of this farm belongs to them.
After dinner and Susan Sauter’s blueberry cornbread upside-down cake, we’ll linger over coffee and more stories. I won’t mind cleaning up, because friendship holds the meal together – friendship burnished as the old pewter plates that I wash.
Ellesa Clay High is a writer and Emerita Associate Professor in Native American literature and creative writing at West Virginia University.
A Meal Is a Work of Art
“Pick me up,” the boy pleaded. Although he was six, he looked closer to three. He had gorgeous brown eyes that sparkled when he grinned.
He led us into his house and proceeded to recount past visits from foreigners in glowing terms. Meanwhile the one-year-old was trying to force the family bike through the doorway and the ten-year-old was playing volleyball with my dad.
The family are refugees from the Syrian Civil War. They now live in our town in northern Jordan. My family works to help many families like theirs. We sat on cushions on the floor and waited for the mother to finish cooking and for the father to bring extra parsley for the tabouli. Finally the mother emerged with a plate piled high with Syrian maglube and a large bowl of tabouli. In the Arab culture, it is a privilege to have guests. It is paramount to make them feel welcome and to give them as much food as they can possibly eat. A meal is a work of art and should look beautiful when it is served.
Toward the end, the father says, “To us the family is very beautiful and important; it would be shameful not to treat our guests like family.” He said they had to borrow money in order to provide this meal. Arab hospitality means giving until there is nothing left to give; sometimes it is hard to eat the food. But we do. They have given us this hospitality, and it would dishonor them to refuse it.
Jurisa Shirky is a high school senior living with her parents, Richard and Irene, in Jordan.
Building Tables, Not Walls
We live, we are told, in a world of scarce resources but unlimited needs and wants. The world answers this problem with exclusion, walls, and violence. If we are Christians, however, we are called to believe that God has created an abundant world, to which he has set limits but which can provide abundant life for all. As a community, we recognize this abundant creation not by building higher walls, but longer tables for common meals and conversation.
Every Saturday we have two opportunities, lunch and supper, to offer our friends a big table, fantastic organic pasta, and products from our urban farm production. That has been our answer to the last two years of division in our country. A big spread, full of honest and delicious food, which celebrates the most ancient of Christian traditions: shared table, shared words.
Teachers, neighbors, and workers young and old sit together at our long table. We learn about one another and enjoy food, stories, and life, while we preserve the welcoming cheerfulness that Thomas Aquinas called eutrapelia. A simple plate of gnocchi can bring tears of gratitude when served with frankness; a cup of water and a smile can bring hope to a depressed visitor; new friends are made over a piece of genuine Brazilian carrot cake. Most importantly, those with broken lives can experience restoration when it comes embodied, really and concretely, in abundant lives and welcoming tables.
Guests at Home
The room is prepared, the tables set. There’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. It’s guest night at our little community house in Berlin. There are six adults, four children, and one long-term guest in our community. We’re a small bunch. But the church of Christ can’t just be there for itself. So we open our doors.
There’s an excitement on guest night: Whom will God send today? We never know how many to expect. Sometimes it’s two, sometimes fifteen. But there’s always enough food.
While we eat, we talk. Often we read a short text. Dinner is followed by singing, sometimes a game, and always a short devotion. We take Jesus at his word: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” It’s that simple: we can’t do more than prepare the food and then open the doors in the expectation that God can speak to us through each guest who comes.
Tom, homeless, joins us regularly. “This is a wonderful place,” he told us. Hans, who grew up without parents, says he is grateful to have found a family. Ricardo, a junkie on the mend, painted us a picture. The upper half is golden, the lower half is dark. Jesus – a silver path – joins the two halves.
It’s a fitting expression of our evenings together: the whole thing is carried by the Spirit. We are grateful. And in our gratitude, we feel like guests in our own home.
Clemens Weber, with his wife and their children, has lived for the past ten years in a Christian grassroots community in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.
The name of my village is Negovano. In this celebration, we’re enjoying a long-awaited reunion of family and friends. Some have traveled from America; others have lived here their whole lives. When we celebrate, everyone is welcome. We can always make the food go around. We start and end our gatherings with prayer and singing ;– lots of singing. And we don’t sing without dancing!
At every such gathering, we always begin by cooking sadza, the staple food in Zimbabwe, using cornmeal ground from field maize. It cooks slowly over an open fire; there’s an art to making it just the right consistency. Sadza is filling and goes well with the other dishes: rice with peanut butter sauce, butternut squash, collard greens and tomato salad, and chicken or goat meat in a gently spiced stew. We grow everything ourselves.
Times are still very hard in rural Zimbabwe; we worry about the future of our country. There have been several years of drought, and the government situation hasn’t improved, even though the leadership has changed. But it’s not in us to lose hope. God is always with us, and we have each other.
Elizabeth Mambo is a physical therapist and mother of three. She now lives in New York, but stays in touch with her family in Zimbabwe and visits whenever she can.