Methodist ministers didn’t make a lot of money in the sixties and early seventies when I was a kid. Small town pastors were fortunate to have a home provided for them, because they were going to make barely enough to squeak by. My father was as thrifty as they come, which was a good thing since Mom was used to having anything she wanted. She learned to be frugal, thanks to his sisters and his mother, but it was never easy for her.
Another wonderful thing that happened for small town pastors and their young families was the generosity of the people. When things were tight, there was never a chance that we would go hungry. Someone was always sharing with us. Now, sometimes, those gifts were quite entertaining … like the time we received a live turkey (Dad’s trying to get mom to come closer in that picture) or the regular gifts of cow’s tongues. I still have no idea who was giving those tongues to my father, and maybe they thought it was a joke, but nothing went to waste in our house. Dad was always having fun with them. The funniest was the day we came home from something-or-other and two tongues were placed decoratively in a vase on the dining room table. Oh, Dad.
When we were very young, someone gave our family a gift of pig’s brains. I have to tell you, we never knew whether they were having fun with my Dad or not, but things didn’t go to waste … remember that? Mom brought out the best china and silver, lit candles at the table, turned out the lights and served dinner. When we asked what we were having, she told us it was Cerebral Delight. We were too young to know any better. This was also the first time I discovered the truth of the old adage – you can fry anything in oil and make it palatable. We didn’t complain.
I remember opening the doors more often than not and greeting someone who had food to give us. It certainly helped Mom stretch a dollar.
One day an older woman in our church in Sigourney called Dad and asked him to come to her home. She was a dear, dear woman and he would take any opportunity to spend time with her. When he arrived, she presented him with not one, but two – 100 pound bags of potatoes for our family. They weren’t for the church, they were for him to take home. He was astounded. It was a generous gift, but it was also going to take all of Mom’s creativity to make sure we used these potatoes wisely so they didn’t spoil.
I don’t know how long we ate potatoes after that. It seems like it was years. My mother served potatoes at every meal – and sometimes that was the meal. She created many different recipes with potatoes, but more often than not, we ate either mashed potatoes or baked potatoes with dinner. The old parsonage in Sigourney had a cellar … and in the back corner of the cellar, was a deep, dark room cut out of the dirt for storing foodstuffs. Those potatoes lasted forever back there.
Now, you might think that the three of us kids would get tired of eating potatoes at every meal. What I find interesting is that none of us ever did. Carol still makes the best mashed potatoes around and one of the reasons I was even reminiscing about this was that I actually have a Pinterest board simply for potato recipes. Mom would have loved to have access to all of these different recipes.
We grew up knowing true generosity. Something as simple as a potato brings back floods of memories as I realize just how deep that generosity flowed through the people we knew and who cared about us. This is why I tell stories of great people. These are the people I’ve known throughout my life.