Saturday, October 1, 2016

“A SENSE OF SELF AND PLACE”


One of the publications to which I subscribe is a magazine entitled Cooks Illustrated, a periodical that contains recipes, information about cooking utensils and other products, tips about processing food — a panoply of food fare contributed by three dozen test cooks, editors, and cookware specialists. Members of this staff test recipes over and over again until they achieve food excellence and also test kitchen equipment and food brands. My favorite articles in the magazine are editorials written by founder and editor Christopher Kimball. The editorials usually contain reflections on how to live a good life or highlight New England (Vermont) people and their way of life.

This morning while I had to sit still and treat an ailing back and leg with light therapy, I re-read an old editorial by Kimball that incited a lot of pondering in me. Although Kimball focused on the character of Vermonters, his musings, written in a style much like the essayist E.B. White, would appeal to a universal audience (in my opinion). The editorial was entitled “The Golden Rule,” and he prefaced his musings with: “It isn’t easy to scratch the surface of a Vermonter…” and concluded with the thought: “We often measure life by the number of new experiences we accumulate…Vermonters measure what remains steady…each of us is expected to measure up in the eyes of our neighbors. That’s the golden rule in country living, a sense of self and place in service of others…”

This editorial in a food magazine struck me as one that describes people who live in my first home of New Iberia, Louisiana. Recently, when a flood occurred in Acadiana, I went on Facebook to find out whose homes had been flooded so I could offer prayers and, in several cases, the use of my home, which wasn’t flooded. On Facebook, I read numerous accounts of the characteristic banding together of those in my home town — a place that already had the reputation of unifying “in service to others” in the event of disaster. The history of Acadiana is alive with the courage and steadfastness of those exiled from their native Nova Scotia by the British as far back as the 18th century.

During the recent flooding, when I read about the unifying acts of those who weren't flooded — how they helped their neighbors — I remembered the courage and steadfastness shown by everyone in Acadiana during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Lily. Victims of the flooding fled from New Orleans and environs to New Iberia for help, where they knew they’d find the unique hospitality for which Acadiana is noted.

After the recent deluge, those who had escaped the flooding went in groups, often in boats, to rescue flood victims, to help tear down the sheet rock in flooded homes and to reconstruct interiors, carry out sodden furniture, cook gumbos and étouffée for evacuated friends and family. With typical joie de vivre, they gave thanks that the flooding had spared many of them by cooking good food, storytelling, and holding rosary sessions and church services of thanksgiving. One of the unique ways they showed their gratitude for lives spared was through collecting rocks from the countryside, painting them with cheerful pictures — flowers, trees, people’s faces, anything that showed a “sense of place” for their lovely bayou country home. They shared these objects of art with their friends on Facebook. I don’t know where the repository for the rocks is located, but I hope to find out when I travel back to bayou country this month.

No, Vermonters aren’t the only people who measure what remains steady; however, reminders from editors like Kimball certainly seem timely in light of the storms and hurricanes that disrupt us this time of the year…not to mention the political storms that have made all of us uneasy about the country’s leadership. But I’ll be happy to return to bayou country to stay awhile among south Louisianans who have “a sense of self and place in service to others.”

Photograph by Victoria I. Sullivan, taken from my recent book of poetry, A Slow Moving Stream.

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