The one that was supposed to be about cultured cream cheese.

Last week was just one of those weeks, you know?

I was supposed to write about making yogurt cheese. I even took pictures of the process, in preparation for the post — but it just would never come out, it just felt tired and a bit meaningless.

Last week was hard in pragmatic ways. Tim left town for the week in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and before his plane landed in Seattle I had taken my Little Man to the ER for stitches in his cute, pudgy ring finger, a toy box lid having closed like a door onto its tip, sheering off much of the fleshy pad. When it happened, my friend Emily had stopped by — just for a few minutes — to help me choose a paint color for our kitchen. Instead, within 10 minutes of being here, she found herself helping me try to stop the bleeding of a finger that my son would let no one touch, and watched me fade into a fog of disillusion over the realization that a bandaid was not going to fix it.

So she scooped up her two kids and my 2-year old, threw them all into her 8-seater, and coaxed me and the injured to the backseat. She then drove us (all the while, my son screaming) to the ER, dropped us off, took the rest of the kids to kill time at Trader Joe’s and a thrift store (appropriate, if you know Emily), and then came by to pick us up again after the lidocaine and stitches had been painfully administered (one friend asked if they had to velcro him to the bed, and I replied that no, I was the velcro — fun times).

That afternoon, without going into the comical (in a comedy of errors sense) details: in an effort to pick up two tickets to the Arcade Fire show I’d won in a twitter contest the night before, I managed to also pick up a $75 parking ticket in downtown Indy. That’s the kind of monetary scenario that keeps me up at night, replaying a movie screen of decisions and choices, of blame and cynicism, until all joy from the initial slate of victory is wiped clean.

All this, in just 7 hours. So Emily said, hey, come to my house tonight. We can grill burgers for the kids, and we’ll pour you wine, grill you a steak, and put some sauteed morels on top. At first, out of sheer exhaustion, I said I’d have to think about it, as all I wanted to do was put everyone in my house to bed and fall into a forgetful sleep. But then I asked myself what could be difficult about someone else cooking for my family while drinking wine and complaining to sympathetic adult ears about my horrendous day?

(And, of course, there were the morels. Something I’d never had before, but will most definitely have again, even if I never find out where Emily foraged for them and have to pay the going rate of $35 a pound. Morels, they are the subject of another post. They are, in a word, magical.)

The rest of the week held highs and lows (a high being the Arcade Fire show, which I attended with my existing purchased ticket, and also sold my two prize tickets for exactly $75 in a moment of nervous [perhaps-illegal?] deal-making that is also the subject of another post; a low being Little Man’s diagnosis with both strep throat and a double-ear infection on Thursday). But the thing that effectively sealed the lid on my ability to write about yogurt cheese was a single day of horrendously bad weather that slammed into the south late Wednesday.

It seems that everyone has a distant disaster with which they might especially resonate. While I feel for the victims of earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires, I have very little personal experience with them, so they feel other-worldly. With tornadoes, I know a thing or two. I grew up in tornado alley, where multiple times each spring and fall we found ourselves listening to sirens from the central hallway of our house, a mattress pulled over our bodies. When I was very small, we even had a full-blown tornado shelter embedded in our backyard, and when the threat was especially high we were carried through rain by our parents into the wet steel bunker.

In all those years under mattresses, I never once saw a tornado. One might hit the next town over, or hover in our area but never touch down. And it became tiresome, all that hiding from storms. But after spending a few days looking at images from Smithville, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, I now realize that hiding in a bathtub really does save people’s lives; but also that sometimes no matter where you hide, the tornado wins.

I look at those images, wondering what it must be like to be hunkered down in a closet, to hear a deafening roar for less than a minute, and then look up to find your house torn from around you. In mere seconds, an entire town is left in ruins.

It’s a bit mind-blowing. Simultaneously putting things in perspective (my week? I was losing sleep over a parking ticket?) and wondering how these people will manage to put lives back together. Of all our friends and family in the South, no one I know was hurt — but we know the places, and in a sense we do know the people there. They were the people that grew up all around me, they are the lives of small towns and college campuses.

I was reading this morning, about people going to Tuscaloosa, the town that suffered the most devastating death toll and damages, to offer help. One group went to a hard-hit area, and brought pancakes. Homemade pancakes, to offer to those who were cleaning up the remains of their lives. The reason being that they thought the folks could use some comfort food.

Pancakes. We might initially think that these people don’t need pancakes, they need clothes and shelter and bulldozers to scoop up what’s left of their entire lives — and that is true. But, in a moment that brought me full-circle back to the steak and morels offered to me after a difficult Tuesday, it seems to me an entirely appropriate thing to give. We can’t snap a finger and undo what was done; we can’t in one fell swoop repair so many devastated lives. But the offering of food, of something warm and made with caring hands, brought to a place where there isn’t much left of comfort, is much more than the calories or nourishment or fullness it provides. It is a recognition that we are all helpless, at times, that our humanity gives us that feeling to share. It’s about giving time to the preparation of a meal, and offering it to someone who can’t spare the effort. It’s about bearing one another’s burdens, even when the burden feels big enough to crush a community.

Now living in Indiana, I can’t be like my sister Angie, and collect a truckload of clothes and supplies at a local club and then drive it 45 minutes over to Smithville. But I can be like Emily, and offer a meal and glass of wine to a friend who’s had a (relatively) horrendous day.

Perhaps also, after making all these connections and getting my priorities and inconveniences back into some sort of adequate chart of relativity, get back to making yogurt cheese. Because thankfully, graciously, activities that mundane are the ones that most days are made of.




13 thoughts on “The one that was supposed to be about cultured cream cheese.

  1. A couple of things: First, I am glad you have a friend who will fix you a meal. πŸ™‚ Secondly, we actually read about morels and hunted for them on our property. No luck. Thirdly, I am so glad your family is safe and Townes survived the ER. Finally, Saturday night after Bill and I worked like dogs in the yard I came in to dinner made and the dishes washed. Sierra had prepared your Salmon Pasta (that is what we call it) and Autumn had washed all the dishes. A hot meal prepared by someone’s caring hands is extremely comforting. πŸ™‚

  2. I joke in church that God speaks to me in the grocery store, prompting me to grab extra and directing me where or who to take it to. But it’s true. I understand the need for food and the feelings that can come from it, especially when one is rendered helpless.
    I also know where to find morels, you know if you’re up for it. πŸ˜‰

  3. Really well-written post, Katy! This was good. Thank you.

    Also, you know Kenton has a flat-topped pinky finger from the same sort of incident (toy box) at about the same age. He also has a flattened thumb, but that had to do with a sliding van door. Or perhaps I’ve mixed them up. At any rate, his poor mother! But it does make him all the more interesting.

    And further, please tell us about morels. I recently reread Animal, Vegetable Miracle, and morels came up, and I am so curious.

  4. Thanks for the shout-out, sis. Fair warning, the rest of this is hard to read… All true, but very difficult to hear.

    We actually ended up taking SIX mini-vans or SUVs full of clothing, toys, shoes, toiletries, food and water over to Amory/Smithville yesterday. Jerry and I have friends over there (they’re all okay) so we were able to go through the hardest hit areas. I’ll be posting some pictures on my FB and Twitter accounts later today or tomorrow.

    I can’t really explain the experience. It was pure, unadulterated violence. Everywhere we turned our eyes was a snapshot of the chaos. There was a feeling in the air that still hovered above the foundations where 3000-4000 sq ft, well built brick houses once stood… These people did not go without a fight. All the stories we heard were of terrifying last phone calls, split second decisions that either saved or killed people. They ALL knew it was coming. This wasn’t a big trailer park, it was a very nice neighborhood with brand new and very old houses alike. Some of the people were found miles away. Not feet or yards… MILES. I still can’t wrap my head around it. I just couldn’t stop crying, to the point it was just embarrassing. The people who lived through it are proud, they are grateful, and they cannot wait to start building a new home exactly where the old home sat on Tuesday. They didn’t want pity. They wanted nice clothes to bury their loved ones in.

    My friend Mike who lives in Amory, whose family lost four entire homes in Smithville, said the thing that bothered him most was people who he’s always heard say “If it’s my time to go, then let the Lord take me. I’m not going to waste my time worrying about the weather.” He was one of the first people on the scene in Smithville. The people they found, some of them children, were in pieces. He was adament that in that moment, he did not feel “the will of the Lord”. It was not a peaceful way to go.

    If any good can come of this I hope that MS and other southern states where the water table often prevents the construction of basements will consider funding community storm shelters. Ones that can withstand even the 200+mph winds of the EF5 that came through Smithville. Those poor people just never stood a chance. And they knew it.

  5. This is one of those gems of a post that really makes me think.

    And the comment from your dad makes me teary. ❀

    Thank you for sharing your words.

  6. When you wrote that “we know the places, and in a sense we do know the people there,” it resonated so deeply with me. I was in Birmingham the week before the storm, eating lunch at one of my favorite places in the world, Dreamland. Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and the surrounding towns have never been *my* town. But I feel like I know these people. They are the friends and families of my Nashville people. They are the people who ask me if I have a good church home. They are the people who are never too busy to ask how you are, and who actually want to hear how you are. They are the people who cook with heart, soul, and plenty of bacon grease. My heart hurts for all of them.

    Your sister’s story brought me to tears. I just can’t imagine, and like you said, it puts our petty inconveniences into perspective.

    The next time a terrible, awful, no good day rolls around, I’d be equally happy to pour you a glass of wine and cook up some comfort for you.

  7. I was in Memphis last week when all of this was happening. So unreal. Each of us calling our parents trying to locate them during the wave after wave of storms over the days.

    The power of love and the power of food are intertwined and feed us equally. Here’s hoping we all stay full with both.

  8. Finally had a chance to read this…after an early morning baby feeding…before the bustle of getting “the boys” out the door for school and work. Now, two hours later, I have time (well, not really, but I’m taking it) to comment!

    LOVELY piece, Katy. One of my favorites of yours to date.

    You know, TJ basically knocked his two front teeth out with a mis-step on the ice in January. Lots of blood. Him screaming in the car all the way to the dentist. Like you, I’m grateful to NOT have lots of experience with true disaster. But our incident with TJ’s teeth was monumental to us when it was happening. Know how you feel. πŸ™‚

    …but pancakes. Really. Pancakes. …I cried during that part Katy. Really. πŸ™‚

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