I believe in the power of church kitchens to bridge and bind the generations. Viola Bloom was my introduction to this spiritual mystery. Actually, it was Viola’s funeral on a nasty, gloomy November day that got me to the church kitchen, a place I had carefully avoided since I thought it too traditional for me. Viola was a long-time, senior member of the small Methodist Church in the village where my husband and I moved a year after we married. Within the first four years of village life, two children arrived less than two years apart. With my full-time job and a husband too often away on business, I started attending church as an antidote to feeling perpetually overwhelmed. At church, Viola would smile and speak, laugh and admire any little being that came within eye contact. Her gentleness and sweet face made her a hit with harried parents and restless children. Though I appreciated her, I never took the time to know Viola well. I couldn’t imagine that we would have anything in common with a 30-year age difference. Then, Viola died, quite unexpectedly.
Viola’s funeral was on a cold, gray day. My children were not in nursery so going to the service would mean taking them along. As the morning wore on, the idea of being housebound with two little ones overcame my reservations. I tugged on jackets, hats and mittens, announcing to the small beings we were going to church to say good-bye to Viola. After a couple of questions as to where Viola was going, we were off to the funeral to offer Viola a final ‘bon voyage’. We entered the church through the dining room. With two deep breaths I knew I had, for all the wrong reasons, made the right choice that dreary day. The air was steamy with the scents of apple crisp and pumpkin pies. I headed to the kitchen proper, toward the laughter and the smells thinking I had to be polite despite my disdain for kitchen duty. Pushing through the swinging door, I saw them, the church ladies, peeling, cutting, sprinkling and talking. Entering, I was handed a cup of coffee and a stool. My weariness must have been evident though I was youngest in the room by at least two decades, and had not been cooking all morning for dozens of people.
I gratefully sipped and listened to the women. They talked about Viola, her family, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sharing stories, gossip, recipes, remedies, and memories. Those ‘old-fashioned’ women gave meaning and context to an ordinary life making Viola Bloom seem extraordinary indeed. Watching my children being hugged and admonished, fed and admired by the kitchen brigade, hands working and conversations flowing, my misgivings and disdain fell away. I had come into a sacred space where apples, cinnamon and storytelling combined offering connection from one generation to the next-birth, love, death-very young to very old-all in that kitchen-we were the circle of life. My harried soul quieted even as the toddlers began to cry. My babies are now grown and several of the ladies from that long past day have joined Viola, in their turn honored by cooking and memories. As for me, I continue believing in the power of church kitchens, never missing a chance to enter one when invited.
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