A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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It is April and the cold wind shears through Spring, sharp and strident, cutting away the warmth that had been nuzzling the earth. The daffodils have been shredded and the azaleas’ fragile blooms are scissored to limp bits of faded rag. We have been lucky, for the wind has had fiercer, funnel-shaped metamorphoses elsewhere. The neighbors worry about the fruit trees and flash flood warnings. The children gaze out the windows, wishing the trees would stop dancing so they can go out and dig in the warm, dark soil again. I don’t know if the little cubes of potato, tenderly placed in the ground to reproduce themselves, have any feelings about the change in weather, but if they could talk I’m sure they’d complain as vigorously as the old farmer in the hardware store. Ah, cruel April, to chill our newly wakened hopes of green Spring days!
The grassy cupped nest above the light fixture out back is empty, signifying the end of the line of a Phoebe clan. The tail-bobbing Phoebe is a bird of insistence and persistence and it hurts to see such strength overcome. One member of a Phoebe family returns to the same nest each Spring, and builds upon the strawy foundations of the year before. Very sensible and economical, don’t you think? The father hops and flutters from post to rail to chair to shrub, endlessly repeating his territorial call: FEE-BEE, FEE-BEE! When the eggs hatch the babies are quiet until a parent arrives with a delicious bug; then the demanding peeping begins. The area below the nest is splattered grey and white as the little ones attempt to echo the song of their inheritance: fee-bee? fee-be? Then, suddenly, the nest is empty again and you must listen closely to hear the choral classes now meeting in the woods. But this year, it seems, the harsh winter has ended that cycle and there will be a quiet vacancy above the light fixture.
The cruelty of nature can nowhere compare with the insane cruelty of humans. The war in Indochina — once such an emphatic part of our lives — has ended now that “our boys” are back home. What happened to the grief so many of us claimed to have felt for the war-ravaged little nations of Asia? One would imagine life to be peaceful and constructive for those peoples now that Americans are no longer committing murder there. We hear very little about the incredible brutality, the sadistic slaughters, and unjustified atrocities perpetrated today in Cambodia by the heroic new government. They make My Lai sound like a boy scout camping trip. Where are all the outraged citizens?
What about the human rights of the two-month-old child torn to death for the crime of having a bourgeois father (who had earlier been “reformed” by bayonet)? No, it sickens me to think about it. The force that drives one human to willfully take the life of another is as alien to me as a moonrock. Yet the atoms of that rock, and the atoms of my body and those in the bodies of the killers and the victims probably were all part of one great star light years ago. How did we all come to such separate forms? And what is there in the Cambodian torturer, the Nazi concentration camp guard, the Spanish conquistadors that lurks within me, within you, even within my 16-month-old daughter? To keep silent now when evil occurs is to deny the capability of evil within ourselves — and that is an assumption we had best not make.
David has been away about four days a week for the past month, preparing a new home for our little family. It’s an old house, crouching amid the Virginia mountains, and he’s busy painting, repairing and filling the empty rooms with love and hope as only he can. Soon we will all hike down our gullied, muddy driveway and stay for a while, maybe even years, and try to live a peaceful positive life, close to God, away from the skeptical, negative forces which so pervade our society. To sustain his physical and psychic forces while he’s on his own, I prepared a big batch of beans which he heats up on his hot-plate every evening. I hope he thinks of me as he eats them:
1 cup navy or northern beans
3 cups water
1 tspn. baking soda
1 tblspn. oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tspn. oregano
¼ tspn. marjoram
¼ tspn. basil
salt to taste
Soak beans in water overnight. Or put beans in pot with cold water, bring to boil, cook for 2 minutes, remove from heat and let stand for an hour.
Add remaining ingredients (except salt) and simmer covered for about 2 hours (adding water if necessary) or until beans are tender. Salt to taste and let sit for about 15 minutes.
Serve with crisp salad and crunchy bread.