Oh my ganache!

Goblets of raspberries and ganache on a table

    What happens when you whisk one cup simmering heavy whipping cream, one cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, one teaspoon vanilla extract, and two tablespoons butter together?

 Ganache! A no-fuss, no-fail recipe sure to raise eyebrows as a glaze, icing, or sauce.

Fond of Appalachian chocolate gravy, my favorite way to consume ganache is hot from the pot over steamy, split buttermilk biscuits.

However, in the midst of this brief raspberry season, nothing compliments ganache like fresh berries. Pour one-half cup chocolate into four small bowls and chill in the fridge. Meanwhile, pick your berries or run to your local farm stand or grocer.

The key to a quick, delicious and beautiful dessert is to stock the ingredients. In my kitchen, that’s easier said than done, for I’ve come to consider chocolate chips as my husband does potato chips.

A handful of semi-sweet or dark chocolate morsels (preferably Ghirardelli) satisfies my sweet tooth with a lot less sugar than a cookie or two. The results of my recent blood test support my logic.

That in mind, this morning I was glad to find more than enough Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips, heavy whipping cream, vanilla, and butter to make ganache.

But first, I baked a batch of currant lemon lavender scones for lunch with Yolanda at noon. Then I resurrected four vintage ice cream bowls I found at the Armada Flea Market, filled them with hot ganache, and cooled them.

Meanwhile, I washed the pot, heated homemade asparagus soup, and assembled two salads of greens, grapes, apples, and pecans. A teapot and teacups stood waiting with Earl Gray and a bouquet of mums and clematis for my guest.

The only Yolanda I’ve met in my lifetime, she’s a mother of two daughters and two sons. One daughter and her husband live locally with two Siberian Huskies and two huge furry rescued cats. Her remaining three offspring landed in Denver, Colorado, San Diego, California, and Bethesda, Maryland, in that order.

With their four grandchildren residing in three distant destinations, Yolanda and her husband Art travel to the east and west coast frequently. Furthermore, when they’re not visiting their kids and grandkids, Yolanda rotates the care of her 101 year-old mother with her sister.

Thus, when Yolanda calls and says, “I’m home,” we plan several hours to catch up.

A friendship rooted in our children’s high school plays and soccer games, Yolanda remained a secret pen pal to my surviving two daughters after our firstborn’s death in 1996.

Both in college, those years were undeniably the most grievous for my young women and me. Yet, faithfully, Yolanda mailed my girls letters of encouragement. Quietly, she stood in the gap for me—bowed her head in prayer.

Dear Reader, what happens when you share your table with a long-lived friend? When you scrape the last bit of chocolate from a recycled ice cream dish together?

Oh my ganache! You realize your bond has long surpassed the rooted stage, and in the spirit of Jesus’ love, blossoms as we age.

A wholesome thing

Sixty new Grosso lavender plants grow on a slope facing west
My computer sits marooned under our painter’s drop cloth. For the first time in my life as a journalist, I carry a recycled composition book and pen outside, and write.
                  It feels good. How could it not when I’m overlooking sixty new lavender plants happily growing on a green slope? My husband and neighbor accompany birdsong with background lawnmower music.
       The natural and manmade live in harmony as Mel swipes an apple off the tree and bites into it. He holds it up and smiles.

       The weather is ideal for open-air musings. Breezy. Low humidity. Sunny. With most of summertime’s gardening and canning behind, the blue sky waits to infuse my spirit again with faith, hope, and love.
                  I pray to God for my daily dose of forgiveness and wisdom.
                  Today is September 11, 2020, and evokes memoires of New York City’s Twin Towers in flames. And the day I drove our third-born daughter to Chicago where she’d enrolled in art school. We arrived to the city gathered downtown to rally in support of the families who lost loved ones, and America’s safety against terrorism.                   
                  I didn’t want to leave my youngest child to duke it out alone with Chicago. But she said, “Mom, I have to do this.”
                  A familiar refrain raising three girls.
                 Thankfully, my baby overcame an assault and three more Chicago moves and returned to Michigan, found her place in our Great Lakes State.
                  The scent of fresh-mown lawn wafts over the landscape. I absorb September’s colors; the border of tall, amber grasses, tinged russet of a maple, the persistent cardinal flower blooming in the copper pot once used for stirring Macintoshes on an open fire.
                  We love homemade applesauce.

                  But back to this story.
                  After Roland our painter renews my office, I’ll do one last weeding of this season to the stacks of books holed up in the study’s closet. My empty bookshelves loafing in the living room want some space for new books—poetry, biography, history, memoir, novels, and gardening.
                  My list of new titles to preview grows daily.
                  It’s four o’clock on Friday, September 11, 2020, and the sun’s aglow on the pink petunias cascading from the hen house window box. Deadheading pays off.
                  The Rose of Sharon by the beehive blooms her last flurry of lavender petals. The three boxes of the hive painted the same color stand stacked in the shade. After a pest-free spring and summer, I’m fighting yellow jackets presently. The worker bees sacrifice their two-week life cycle in a valiant duel with the honey thieves.

                  I don’t know why I haven’t written outdoors all these years. A vitamin C and D and radiation-free environment encourages composition more so than sitting before a computer screen for hours.
                  Dear Reader, I recall a photo of Robert Frost sitting on a porch with his writing table on his lap, pen in hand.
                  Indeed, a marooned computer on a fine, September day is a wholesome thing. Makes one feel a bit Robert Frost-ish.

Learning by example

Gino & Marlene Mallia, March 19, 1955

My grandmother taught me to love good food by her joy in growing it, cooking and serving it. During my childhood, Granny’s table was the safest and most delicious place in the world.

My mother taught me the absolute bliss of birthday parties. Without fail she baked five birthday cakes each year, iced them with buttercream frosting, and decorated them with roses and green leaves. We celebrated in our basement with neighborhood playmates and family.

My father taught me to value home movies, his handwritten captions with the name and age of the birthday girl. A barber who filmed everything he prized, including his five daughters and the Detroit Tigers, Dad zoomed in on Mom’s roses.

Miss Shindler, my sophomore English teacher, introduced me to the beauty of language and tragedy of thwarted love when our class read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Miss Liennemann, my senior English teacher, assigned Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to her students. The novel opened my eyes to the blind spots in romantic love.

Now, well over the hill, I reflect upon these and other people who laid foundational life lessons in my mind and spirit unawares. Productive memory exercise, this review also generates gratitude for those who guided me into the rewarding avocations of parenthood, writing, and gardening.

I’m learning to recognize the fluent hosts of folk who also teach by example. Gino and Marlene Mallia of Leonard, for instance.

The past twenty years, Gino and Marlene have conscientiously fulfilled their respective roles as treasurer and president for the Addison Township Cemetery Auxiliary.

When Gino phoned this past March and said, “We’ve cancelled the meetings and spaghetti dinners,” I replied, “I’ve been expecting your call.”

The low-key auxiliary meetings mean much to me. I learn who’s been born, gone off to college or military service, and who’s elderly and needs help. We discuss the cemetery’s history and needed repairs. Gino reports on the program for the Memorial Day Ceremony.

Furthermore, gathering as a community twice a year over a plate of Gino’s spaghetti sustains the ties that bind in peace and understanding.

Presently, Marlene is recovering from a fall. After sixty-five years of marriage, Gino is counting down the days until his wife returns from rehab.

“The people at church signed up to bring meals when Marlene comes home,” he said when we spoke tonight. “Neighbors have brought me dinner, and the kids take me out. I’m puttin’ on weight!”

Yes, we learn how to take care of one another by example. Now it’s Gino and Marlene’s turn to receive.

“Someone offered to take Marlene’s place as president,” Gino said. “She can’t do the heavy lifting any longer.”

I hear in Gino’s voice his concern for his bride and the roles they vacate in the township where they married March 19, 1955, raised their children, and now live with their great-grandchildren.

Dear Reader, this is what sixty-five years of life-lessons can build.

I think that’s worthy of a party, don’t you? When Marlene’s on her feet again, I’ll bake Mom’s banana-nut cake with buttercream frosting, sans the roses.

Reconciliation of summers

Tennessee greasy beans for our table
I awake before dawn to the roar of rolling thunder. After another dry spell, the heavens at last shake the house with the sound waves of kettledrums and cymbals. I smell the crescendo of rainfall before I hear its blessed tap-dance on the rooftop.
           My abused bones and muscles relax. Hallelujah! I’m saved from dragging the hose from our rhubarb patch to flower gardens!
           Perfect timing; for I believe I’ve run out of gas. I’ve burned a double portion this droughty summer.  
            I rest; know my beloved honeybees will find raindrops on grass, leaves, and flowers. Perhaps I’ll chance upon another bee drinking a sparkling drib on a begonia petal—my wage for faithfully watering birdbaths, pots, and window boxes in ninety-degree weather.
            A cool, clean breeze carries the scent of soil, foliage, and rain to my pillow. Like a good convalescent, I turn on my side and welcome Nature’s cure.
            I listen to the storm’s fireworks explode above our land, glad for the married elements of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.
            Water. We can’t survive without it. Even my potted succulents need moisture. Beware, without drainage, a succulent is doomed.

A succulent blooms in my rock garden
Since I’ve nowhere to go and nothing to do this hour of the morning, my mind considers such necessities as food, healthy plants, and family.
I’m grateful for the fallout of nitrogen fixation onto our weedy lawn. It shall be green again, unlike our dehydrated tomato plants. We’ve learned no amount of rainfall will revive them. Although my husband soaked the vegetable garden with well water, there’s nothing like a drenching shower in due season for a robust crop.
Yet, we’ve seen worse dry spells—say twenty or so years ago before we grew a vegetable garden. We didn’t dare light a bonfire back then.
As summers sweep over me, it seems we built our little homestead in a drought zone. The earth is green and lush just south, east, and west of us, and a few miles north.
Thank God we can’t foresee the future.
When our girls lived here, what seems a century ago, yet just yesterday, fierce storms sometimes sent us to the basement. Once, the wind blew all the straw off the grass seed we’d sown. As we raked the straw back in place, our daughters declared country living wasn’t for them.
And they’ve kept their word.
With our cat Cuddles sleeping at my side, I recall my mother, her passion for growing food and flowers. Whenever my family arrived on her Kentucky doorstep for our annual summer visit, we found a huge pot of white-half runner green beans on the stove, a pone of cornbread in the oven, and a bouquet of zinnias on her dinning room table.
This hospitality we enjoyed until the unsettling of her memory.
Dear Reader, with the tail end of another summer making a spectacle of itself with lightning and thunder, my younger self reconciles with my older self.
I rest, consider the two-week lifespan of the worker honeybee.

The Storytelling Tree

Olivia learns to play croquet
Andy loved building things. He worked a good, long day on my whim to swing like a kid again.
           Up and down his extension ladder he went, drilling two holes into a limb of a maple, turning giant eyehooks until secure, knotting the rope and threading it through the wood seat.   
“Want to test it?” he asked at last.
I did for twelve years until the weathered rope gave up the ghost this summer. Unable to find someone like Andy to tackle the replacement, I forewarned my friend Debra that her granddaughter, Olivia, wouldn’t be able to swing when they visited the following week.
“Olivia said she would help you fix it,” Debra replied.
I understood the child’s whim to swing again.
On the scheduled day and time, Debra and Olivia arrived on my doorstep. “I’m three and seven twelfths now,” Olivia announced.
The second she devoured her first scone with cream, she ran to examine the swing. “It doesn’t look broken.”
The man of the house came to the rescue. “Hello Olivia,” Mel said, aware of the child’s disappointment.
“Let’s ask Mel to test the swing,” I said.
The frayed rope snapped in two.
Olivia played the good sport. She rolled down hills, ate another scone with cream, and taught Debra and me her version of croquet, which evolved into bowling.
Yet, Olivia wandered back to the broken swing, longing to fulfill her heart’s expectation, and came close to whining.
In consolation, Debra sat beside her three and seven twelfths grandchild on our swing-for-two, but “it didn’t go high enough,” Olivia said.
“Is it time to go home?” Debra asked.
What else is a grandmother to do?
Then the sugar maple by the fire pit called our names. “Let’s go to the storytelling tree,” I said.
To my surprise, Olivia took Debra’s hand and followed me.
“Who wants to go first?” I asked.
“You go,” Olivia said.
I sat with my back to the tree trunk. Olivia snuggled in the cradle of Debra’s lap, the girl’s dress and green crinoline slip splayed over Debra’s legs.
“Once upon a time,” I began, “there were three hens: Blackie, Goldie, and Whitey. Every night Blackie, a pessimist, worried Mel wouldn’t show up to close their chute and then a critter would walk up the ramp, through the chute, and into the house where they roosted. And then no more Blackie, Goldie, and Whitey.” 
“’Don’t worry Blackie,’ said Goldie, ‘Mel always shows up.’”
“’And if Mel doesn’t, Iris does,’ said Whitey.’”
“Then they heard Mel at the door. ’Hello girls!’ he said, and closed their chute. ‘Sleep tight!’”
“‘Bock! Told you, Blackie!’ Goldie and Whitey sang. Then they all slept tight. The end.”
To my utmost surprise, Olivia cheered, “Tell the story again!”
Debra took my cue and told her embellished version.
“Tell the story again!” Olivia pleaded.
You see, dear Reader, Debra and I love building stories. Unlike tangible things, good stories stand the test of time.
Especially when they’re built for a three and seven twelfths year old.

Granny's church

Larkspur and Cosmos bloom beside Granny's church, a little battered by the weather
While deadheading Cosmos beside a garden gift I named Granny’s Church, the blissful summer I spent a month vacationing alone in Kentucky came to mind.
Nine years old, my aunts passed me from house to house in the McCoy Bottom where I ran and played from sunup to sundown with cousin Kathy and Kenneth Ray. The first a McCoy on Mom’s side, the second an O’Brien on Dad’s.
When my aunts had had enough, my uncles dropped me off at Granny’s house where I ran her alleys with neighbor boys Paul Ray and Buddy Boy.
Meanwhile, Granny sewed me two blouse and skirt outfits— one yellow, the other blue. “School clothes,” she said.
When Sunday rolled around, Granny drove us to her church. I wore the flowery blue school clothes.
I knew the way to her church because Granny took my sisters and me to the Phelps Free Pentecostal Church during our summer vacations “back home,” as Mom said. Granny turned off the road and the steeple appeared. She parked in an alley.
I followed my grandmother’s wide behind through the back door to a rope she unwound from a wall. She pulled again and again to ring the bell, calling neighbors to worship.
Upstairs in the sanctuary, a wooden plaque on the wall with slots for “Attendance” and “Offering” implied a flock much smaller than that of Van Dyke Baptist Church in Warren where my family lived.
That morning, I didn’t ride Van Dyke Baptist’s yellow church bus to Sunday school and church with my two sisters. I sat in Granny’s congregation in Phelps, Kentucky, where she stood behind the pulpit, sang songs and preached.
Of course I don’t remember the Bible verse or her sermon. But it didn’t matter. I’m witness. Every single day of Granny’s life declared what God provides is enough. Always.
Years after her family dispersed Granny’s belongings, Uncle Tab, the youngest of her eight children, placed a little ceramic church in my car.
“I want you to have this. I bought it for Mommy one Christmas.”
“Thank you. I know the perfect place in my gardens,” I said.
“Law no, honey! I paid good money for that to go into a garden.”
“And I put good money into my gardens.”
Soon after, the State of Kentucky razed Granny’s church and the surrounding neighborhood for a football field. The rope and bell also disappeared.
Dear Reader, I couldn’t know as a child what blessed gifts my grandparents had given­—t­­hat Grandpa Floyd built Granny’s church from wormy chestnut timber he harvested from our mountains.
The rope and bell confirm my grandmother’s place and purpose on God’s Earth—a humble country church where she preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Such glorious music and moments catch a child unawares. They come and go unexpected without knowing their power, and often vanish without persuading memory to hold them close.
Not so with my blissful summer when I was nine years old. Not so with Granny’s church.

The rite of a haircut

My pixie haircut twenty some years ago
“I like it. You look twenty years younger,” my husband says.
             And men say women exaggerate.
             “You haven’t worn you hair that short in almost twenty years.”
             Well, he’s closer to the truth on that one.
             My revived pixie hairdo and I sit at the kitchen’s island with a Sloppy Joe, Mel’s standby for a pound of ground grass-fed beef when I’m not around to cook. I spoon homemade gazpacho on my plate.
He picks up his iPad in the living room while I enjoy my Joe and the first fruits of our vegetable garden. I ponder his observation of my hairstyles the past twenty years, the generation we turned gray together.
I recall the beauty salon, clumps of my fine locks falling to the tile while my beautician clips away with glee. I already miss my little ponytail. Gathering the length of my hair in a band felt like I was nine-years old again.
But who was I kidding? In my case, Mom was right when she said long hair makes some older women look older.
I remember looking up to the mirror and asking my beauty operator, “You’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, haven’t you?”
She smiles big as Texas. “Yeah, since you first mentioned it.”
“That was years ago!”
She snips above my ears. Silver clippings slide off my cape. “You needed time to know this is the right cut for you.”
I subdue winces as her thinning scissors chew wads of six months growth and spit it out. Eleanor knows what she’s doing, I coach myself.
As if reading my mind, she says, “My first job was at Eastland when I was nineteen.”
“At Hudson’s?”
She nods and we both let a mournful sigh to those glorious bygone days of J. L. Hudson’s quality customer service and merchandise—the experience of lunching on Waldorf salad and Sanders Hot Fudge Sundae.

My pixie today

As Eleanor blows dry what hair I have left, her confidence as she fusses with styling my meager bangs, she convinces me she’s right.
We glance to the photos I brought of my younger self in short hair. “There’s no doubt about it. You look much younger,” she says.
Well, I know better, but lifting spirits is what beauticians do, so I embrace it when I take cash from my wallet for a service she provides with skill and joy.
After waiting spring and summer for this improvement to my appearance, I look to what I’ve left behind. My wet, graying strands dry on the floor around Eleanor’s chair, a memorial to patience and hope in my country's most anarchistic and trying times within my seventy-one years.

Dear Reader, as I drive home to dinner, I mark our first generation as senior citizens with this rite of a haircut. I praise God from whom all blessings flow and place the next generation into His loving hands.
And when someone says I look younger, I’m glad Eleanor is much younger than me. 

Lifecycle of the tomato hornworm

Tomato hornworm caterpillar

If you plant tomatoes, they will come.

     No respecter of the nightshade family, the tomato hornworm consumes tomato leaves, knows when green shoots sprout for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

     No respecter of soil, overwintered moths emerge from the earth in early spring with a vengeance to mate and invade our paradise.

     Meanwhile, we harvest our first cucumber, oblivious to greenish-white eggs laid on the underside of our tomato leaves.

     Perennial masters of camouflage, the eggs grow unawares within four weeks to its larval stage of the hawk or sphinx moth.

     No respecter of the gardener’s labor and investment, the larvae grow legions of legs: five pairs of prolegs and three pairs of thoracic legs.

     A dreadful looking black horn spikes on the back abdomen of their plump, green belly fed on nature’s bounty. Hornworms will decimate a tomato plant and patch if not plucked off and destroyed.

     Simple enough, you experienced gardeners may say.

     Not so for this greenhorn growing thirty some tomato plants a decade ago.

     “Eww…” I said at first sight when a farmhand spied several hornworms fastened to denuded tomato stems. My mother’s voice echoed in my mind. I hated bugging beans and tomatoes.

     Then Kim, my right-hand farm friend, plucked a worm off a stem without a wince. In awe of her self-confidence, I followed her lead. In minutes we debugged seven hornworms and carried them to the hen’s pen.

    There’s not much in the entertainment industry that can compete with hens chasing the one with the worm in its beak.

     That fun long behind, I’ve devoted this summer to writing, weeding, deadheading, and mulching gardens—left the vegetable garden and hornworm watch to my husband.

     When a young friend and her daughter visited one lovely evening this week, we strolled the farm. Thoroughly enjoying the rare pleasure of one another’s company during this prolonged season of confinement, we found ourselves before the vegetable garden.

     “I’ve not opened this gate for days,” I confessed. “Mel’s the vegetable guy. I’m the flower girl.”

     Cheryl, the mother of two teenagers, said, “It’s beautiful. We don’t have room for a vegetable garden, or the time to grow one.”

     Jenna, her daughter, spied a baby cantaloupe.

     “Good eye,” I said.

     We moseyed back to the garden entrance where the tomatoes grow. “I may as well look for tomato worms, if ya’ll don’t mind,” I said.

     “Not at all. We’ll help. What do they look like?” Cheryl asked.

     “Green and gross.”

     Indeed. In plain view, the largest hornworm I’ve seen to date, chewed away a leaf on an upper stem.

     “Eww…” Jenna said.

     Clueless of its demise, I plucked off the spongy worm.

     “It’s huge!” Cheryl said.

     They followed me to the henhouse where we laughed a good while at five hens chasing the one with the worm in its beak.

     “I think it’s finally a goner,” Cheryl said.

     Dear Reader, I appreciate Nature’s food chain.

     Nothing goes to waste in the cessation of the lifecycle of a tomato hornworm.

Open Windows

My mother in her recliner by the window

I open my study window to a blessed breeze and birdsong. The ferns scorched by heat and drought whisper a rasping refrain.
Memories of open windows waft in with faithful, faultless voices of robins, redwing blackbirds, mourning doves, and numerous winged creatures I cannot identify.  
I sense the health and comfort of this place—welcome the compelling scent that summoned John Muir and other naturalists into the wilderness.
After hours spent before a computer screen, I’d rather tie my walking shoes and talk with trees along my country roads. However, memories linger, insist I stand and listen to Nature’s music—inhale her fragrance.
I see myself a child in first grade, circa 1955, lost in a maze of halls in my new, huge school in Detroit. On the verge of tears, I chance a glance into a large, sunny classroom. A wide beam of sunlight slants through a tall glass and shines upon a student ‘s black hair. Isn’t that my sister Linda? Why is she sleeping in that room?
Linda and her classmates nap on separate reclining wooden chairs. Unlike my room, her class is large with windows almost up to the ceiling. Although it seems strange to see the students sleeping rather than writing at their desks, I feel a little jealous.
The room smells fresh and clean, and quiet enough to hear a pin drop, as Mom would say. She knew a lot about pins because she sewed our clothes and hers.
After school, I ask Mom if Linda slept in a classroom with many bright, open windows stacked on top of each other.
“Yes. It’s a special class for children with sicknesses.”
“Is Linda sick?”
“Yes, with asthma. The fresh air and sunlight help her breathe better,” Mom says.
“Sick children need to rest during school?”
Mom smiles. “Sometimes.”
I wish all classrooms were like Linda’s. Doesn’t every child need fresh air and a bright place to learn?
But I don’t care about naps. I’d rather run outside at recess and feel the breeze in my sweaty hair as I did in the backseat of my father’s Chrysler with my face out the window. I’d close my eyes and taste the air—pass miles and miles on long summer drives from Michigan to Kentucky.
Until Mom spied me in her review mirror. She declared I’d fall overboard.
I hear the ferns rustling and remember my mother in her declining season when I shared her care with my older sister.
Mom sits in the recliner by the front window in our living room and watches the days go by. When I lift the frame, she hears the robins sing.
“Just listen to that pretty bird,” she says.
Dear Reader, I pray to find myself in my declining years sitting in the same recliner by the same open window. I’ll listen to the pretty bird.
And in July’s blessed breeze, I’ll recall when I lapped the air like a dog in the backseat of my father’s Chrysler.

Supper with Hutterites

Pauline and Dennis (foreground) sit at a Hutterite supper table in Kenton, Ohio
On my return from West Virginia last month, Pauline welcomed me into her Victorian home in Newport, Kentucky.
“On your way to Michigan tomorrow, will you have time to stop in Ohio for a visit with our friends the Harris family?” she asked.
“Yes. I packed a dress with sleeves as you suggested.”
“Good! I’ll ride with you. Dennis will meet us there.”
“What’s the name of their community?”
“Hutterite. But Dennis and I call them ‘plain folk’ as we do the Amish. Wanda and Michael don’t use electricity but drive a fifteen-seat van. Wanda loves to cook soup for company. I take dessert.”
The following afternoon, I found Ohio’s June agricultural landscape as breathtaking as Farming Magazine portrays it.
“Dennis and I enjoy escaping the city to spend a day with the plain folk. You’ll soon know why.”
We drove through tidy Ohio towns until Pauline nodded to a spacious white farmhouse. “There it is.”
Surrounded by trees and red barns, the house sat upon an undulating sea of green cropland. The flower garden along the front porch caught my eye from the road. A little blonde girl in a maroon dress ran barefoot with a dog the color of her hair.
I praised God for sight and His bountiful beauty.
Pauline spied Dennis’ van. “Looks like he beat us here.”
Two girls in long, colorful dresses walked down the steps. Two boys about seven and nine ran around the yard with their younger sister and the dog they called Carmel.
I knew Wanda by her matronly figure and smile.
“Welcome Iris!”
“Hello, Wanda. Thank you for the invitation.”  
“Well, come on in! Michael and Dennis ran an errand with the older boys.”
We found five sisters beside the large, harvest table arranging flowers in a vase. They tucked blossoms under each other’s scarves.
 “The flowers are for the funeral of a community member,” Pauline explained. She talked patterns and fabric with the young ladies.
For three hours Greta skipped in and out of the house to color with crayons. Nine-year old Hans led me into a barn to see his chicks.
“A rat killed two of them,” he said.
“I’m sorry.”
Around four o’clock after Dennis and Michael returned with her two young men, Wanda placed Pauline’s cheesecakes on the table. Three-year old Greta pointed to a chocolate piece. “That one.”
Later, we chopped vegetables and gathered silverware for supper.  Twelve people fit on benches with room to spare for the matriarch. The youngest children sat at their little table.
Joyously, Wanda carried in a soup pot of creamed chicken half her size, set it before us, and returned with a stockpot of rice. At last, the matriarch joined is. The patriarch dispersed hymnals.
Before the feast began, the family sang parts in harmony. The feeling was akin to my grandmother’s table when I was a child. Before the family dismissed, they sang from the hymnals again.
Dear Reader, I know why Pauline and Dennis visit the Hutterites.

They love to see the chocolate ring around Greta’s mouth. Plain and simple.