Saturday, October 11, 2008
Thom and David had a lot of green tomatoes from their garden. I was the recipient of this over-production so that I could make mincemeat. I've never wanted to eat traditional mincemeat made with venison, for obvious reasons, but I love this. As soon as I resurrected my old stained and torn cook-booklet of loose clippings and hand-written directions, I was back in Newburgh. Phil and I lived there for the first four years of Jesse's life, on an old farm we bought for fourteen thousand dollars. It was an experiment in country living that I enjoyed, but could hardly wait to leave.
As with all small towns, Newburgh had its own personality. The center of the community was the little chapel up the road from us. The pastor there was a missionary, sent to serve a poor, backward church in a seriously depressed area. His wife was a Bible scholar. They made the best of their disappointing situation, having hoped to be sent to Africa. I went to a Bible study group the wife taught on Wednesday mornings, mainly because a babysitter was provided there. It gave me a chance to spend time with other adults without Carrie and Jesse, albeit saying Praise God, listening to hymns played on the musical saw, and cackling over the fate of people of other religions who would get their due when the Rapture came.
My first visitor in Newburgh was a rather elderly woman named Mrs. Belgarde. She was a pillar of the church and had come to welcome us. It was she who wrote down the list of ingredients for the mincemeat for me. She taught me how to cook Lamb's Ears and milkweed (tastes like a mixture of broccoli and asparagus), to knit mittens, and to grow plants and vegetables. She invited me for lunch at her house, and introduced me to my neighbors. I learned from her that everyone in the immediate area was allowed to pick the blackberries that grew all over our four acres. There was no such thing as private property. Once I knew everyone, we all often met at my house to spend the afternoon playing Scrabble. I remember they played with eleven tiles instead of seven, to speed up the game.
My next door neighbor, about a mile or so down the road, was a young woman from Thailand who had met and married a soldier during the Viet Nam war. She taught me how to cook Thai food and a lot of the neighbors had meals at her house to sample the exotic fare. Once I found out that the meat she used was frogs harvested from the stream near her house, I declined anything that wasn't vegetarian. She had a daughter (Theresa Jean, called TJ) just slightly older than Carrie and the two of them played together. She and I were friends. Buachan believed that animals understood human language and often threatened her chickens with a butcher knife if they didn't lay eggs. She could also be found discussing trespassing with her neighbor's cow who routinely helped herself to the vegetables in Buachan's garden. Her family photo album contained gory pictures of dismembered victims of accidents she regularly came across in Thailand, alongside photos of smiling relatives. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, after which she leaped from the delivery table and insisted on taking the baby home. Eventually she divorced her husband after she caught him and the babysitter having sex in her living room. She snapped a polaroid picture and went to a lawyer. The man married the babysitter, who was pregnant. Their baby girl was killed in an automobile accident at the age of two months when her drunken father ran into the rear of a stopped school bus.
That was life in Newburgh. That was what green tomato mincemeat brought to the forefront of my mind.