We welcome Renee MacDonald as our guest blogger, today, with a piece that she calls "Stew". Renee is a lifelong Port Hoper who has offered her keen thoughts and compassionate actions in many ways that make this a better community. She can often be found, sharing a meal and a conversation with someone, at our weekly Green Wood Community Dinner.
My great grandmother, Edith, understood stew.
She knew that savoury aromas filling the air with assurances staved off hunger, and made us feel safe.The promise of a meal to come. Nothing was thrown away, everything had value.
Just as resources had value, people had value. She knew, and taught me, that people needed other people; that our life was made richer by caring for others. The melding of the many made community. Like a stew.
Her legendary stews made use of all those potentially discarded things, hiding in dark cupboard corners and cabinets. Vegetables, wilting and listless, forgotten at the back of the refrigerator found renewed purpose. Ashamed to appear alone but finding courage in numbers; stronger for their blending.
“Make it do or do without”. I watched her aged hands
gather and rescue, transforming and chopping,
a woman's alchemy.
Stew became a metaphor; a philosophy of transformation and enough--not just enough but so much that we can stretch to sharing. A shuffling down to make room for one more, a chair scraping up to the table. No problem, just add a few extra things to the pot.
The rail riding "hobos" stopped off in Port Hope during the last Depression and shared in my great grandmothers stew. Ladled from her porch, a seemingly bottomless feast; the loaves and fishes retold. No work required from these men, “just eat”, love unconditional.
I have read that these "hobos" would leave a sign
for those who would follow,
letting them know if a household was kind.
Surely there was a mark on my great grandmother's gate, identifying her open hands and even more open heart. I think of this often as I brace for the second great depression, changes in climate, the peaking of natural resources. Now more than ever, the world needs kindness and bottomless stew pots.
For some people, stew has no place in their world. Stew is a shameful relic like hand-me-down clothes, Saturday baths and mending baskets. It's what you eat if you can't afford something better. They are confident that we left all of this behind in the rear view mirror as we drive head long into our new era of economic prosperity.
I am not so sure of this confidence as I watch the lengthening line up in the church hall, the shuffling of feet growing louder each Wednesday evening. Plates extended for stew and rolls, hearts worn bare by life.
Many of my friends at the Green Wood Coalition
are the first to be hit by the growth economy
that can no longer grow.
We reside in the layer where trickle down economic theory no longer reaches. Each week artists, musicians, activists and other caring people find their way to the table, aching for justice and still hoping for happy endings. We stand together on a ledge that is narrowing, and sense this uneasily.
Tonight someone is here to help, next time it is they who seek solace.But there is strength in our numbers and the most hardened among us teach resilience. Sometimes we feed and sometimes we are fed. Each of us bring our own small contribution to the mix, to this stew, this new world we are gently creating.
Stir, stir, a pinch of this and a dash of that. We try new ingredients that are unfamiliar, that we have not come across before. Sometimes blushing at a blunt comment or off colour joke, “too salty”, throwing off our tentative balance. Forgiving just the same.
My great grandmother would be proud.