Sunday, August 4, 2013
Chicken, Collards, and Cassavas.
A city park. A hot, lazy Saturday afternoon. People bringing food in large vessels, food covered carefully so it would stay hot, food with a cultural history, food that feeds the soul.
Cities everywhere, I think, have weekend picnics to celebrate their heritage and the places where their citizens came from. That's particularly true in the West. Because, of course, we all came from some place else. Our lineage here, in this pretty little city, only goes back a little over 150 years. In fact, we are celebrating our sesquicentennial this year. If you are unfamiliar with the word, I didn't know it either until it popped up in the news.
Hence, we have a German picnic, we have an Iowa picnic, we have a Scottish picnic. We are all part of a large family, somehow, who traveled from some where. The people who were here first were the Utes, who lived across the Great American Dessert in the West. The rest of us came later. My own family came West in the 1880s, one of the last families on one of the last wagon trains. It turned out my ancestor was a philanderer, and his wife had had it. The family went West, dad and 8 children; mom went East. We don't know what happened to her. We're what happened to him.
So yesterday, I was in our city park with people who came from somewhere else. The Caribbean. Island people. I seriously fell in love with them. They were gentle people of great strength and a shining integrity.
I loved the men, who were the guys that if you were having trouble were the ones who came to help you without being asked. Kid can't get the lid off the licorice canister. A big guy come along and popped it off. Tables not in the right place or in the right amount. The men would be lifting and hauling tables. A toddler who outran everybody. No problem. A guy came shooting out of the crowd, tracked him down, and brought him back to grandmom.
I loved the kids, who were ever-so well-mannered and well-behaved. The parents had brought games for the kids to play and they played them. Nobody fussed, nobody cried, nobody pouted. The kids were gorgeous, all boys, except for one young lady whose long, lean limbs and her beauty made her a stand-out. She played in all the tag and chase games along with everybody else, up for big fun. My favorite little guy wanted something from the dessert table, something still with a lid. He asked. That's right. He asked if he could have some. And there was the beautiful toddler. He had me with those big, beautiful eyes.
The women shared a deep sensibility of community, of faith and a blessing of the table, of laughing and talking, and sharing their truths. The food was extraordinary: fried chicken, several kinds, rice and beans with delicate, exotic herbs and spices, a potato salad with waxy spuds and sweet potatoes, celery, onion, and radishes in a creamy dressing, macaroni and cheese, home made with crusty, baked cheese on top, and my favs, the collard greens. That and Marcia's kale salad with the cashews. I got to taste cassavas, a sort of a sweet potato, except longer and leaner, with a infamously tough skin. Those were peeled and fried. Never had a cassava before, they won't grow here.
All in all, a really delicious afternoon.