Real Cooking

I guess for some the phrase would have been an unanticipated revelation; but for me it seemed quite reasonable.

“I just feel like moving far, far away.”

In the course of three days, I had heard that phrase independently coming out of the mouths of three different people. People whom I respect who really don’t have a lot of commonality between them other than living in Hillsboro. They hold jobs in and out of the Hillsboro area, are members of various churches and have children at different stages of development.

Of course they know each other, but these words weren’t spoken in jest at a McDonald’s coffee klatch. With each person, there wasn’t any leading question or any “Let’s all run away to Hawaii for the week-end” kind of prompting.

But in the course of conversation, the words “I just feel like moving far, far away” sprang from their mouths. Almost out of the blue.

And the words didn’t shock me; they didn’t seem foreign or out of place. That so many people had said the same thing in so short a period of time came as a surprise, but the sentiment didn’t.

Because I have been saying the same thing lately. And I’m not sure why.

Maybe because it’s winter or because I’m living in the middle of a remodeling project. Or maybe it’s because residing in a small town can be challenging, and I’m weary of dealing with the drama.

Don’t get me wrong. Hillsboro is a lovely little town. The school system is excellent; the emergency services, including the police and fire departments, are top notch; we enjoy good medical facilities; and the merchants are friendly and willing to serve their community. The citizens are, for the most part, upstanding.

Hillsboro also has the advantage of being the home of Tabor College, which gives us the opportunity to rub shoulders with fine-minded academics and the offerings of continuing educational programs, community enrichment and cultural events.

But for all of the positives that Hillsboro possesses, there are still the problems of small-town living that each of us has to endure in our own way.

One of which is this: The people you work with are the people you go to church with, are the people you are friends with are the people you serve on committees with.

And you’re related to most of them.

So, if there’s a conflict-and I’m speaking everything from out and out hostility to differing opinions on any given subject-that conflict carries over from home, to work, to church, to school and back home again. There’s never any respite.

Of course, we should all live in perfect harmony, but let’s be realistic. Even in the best relationships, people can be on opposite sides of a question, and it can cause tension.

And as wearisome as this can be on adults, I think it’s doubly hard on our young people. If a kid isn’t accepted into a circle of friends at school, they aren’t going to be truly accepted into a circle at their church’s youth group or on a summer baseball team, no matter how hard the adults in charge try to make everyone feel included.

In a larger community, there is just a broader opportunity for a kid to find his or her niche because the kids they go to school with aren’t necessarily the kids they go to church with or the kids they play baseball with…. Well, you get my drift.

Then there is gossip. In her book Dakota, Kathleen Norris argues that small-town “gossip done well can be a holy thing. It can strengthen communal bonds.”

And I agree that to have a genuine interest in the well being of others, to be willing to support those in financial or spiritual need, and to care for individuals who are struggling with family or health issues can be truly “holy.”

But I have also seen-have even been guilty of participating in-the flip side that turns petty and mean.

And I have been the subject of gossip that stemmed from someone eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with a friend. The listener, after hearing only a snippet of what was being said, filled in the rest of the story to her own liking and passed it on to others.

Gossip like that hurts. At least for me, it was more from the fact that someone had the audacity to be so sneaky and manipulative rather than the actual subject matter that was being discussed.

But maybe making up stories is easier than dealing with the truth. In a small town, the truth often gets lost because people feel the need to “make nice” in order to “keep the peace.”

Here again, I’ll refer to writer Norris, who lives in the small town of Lemmon, S.D.

“And what of truth? We don’t tend to see the truth as something that could set us free because it means embracing pain, acknowledging our differences and conflicts, taking our real situation into account. Instead, in the isolated, insular small town and rural environment, truth itself can become an outside authority; like the economic and political forces we profess independence from; or the state or federal laws we so causally break when they don’t fit our needs.”

How many of us are willing to “embrace our pain” in order to make something better in our lives? Whether it is in our homes, our schools, our churches or our community, are we willing to truly appraise our situations with open eyes or is it easier to live in a Pollyanna world where everything is wonderful?

Which brings me to criticism. In recent years, criticism has gotten a bad reputation as being something damaging and negative. It certainly can be, but used correctly, I think it’s a healthy part of life.

Without being constructively told how I can improve my job performance, how would I know that changes needed to be made?

If my child is being rude, do I tell him at that point that he’s pleasing or do I instruct him to clean up his act?

Is criticism positive and useful? Yes, in it’s best form. And that’s the kind of criticism I think we need more of today in Hillsboro. An assessment that focuses only on the positives and never addresses the negatives is not a true evaluation.

And only focusing on the positive doesn’t lead to growth. At best, it leads to complacency and mediocrity with a surface that says, “everything is fine” while the undercurrent swims with strife.

So, will I move away? No, I’m here to stay, and I’ll try to make Hillsboro a better place to live.

How about you?

* * *

I found this recipe submitted by Tim Unruh in the Trinity Mennonite Church cookbook and knew it would be a good one to try. Thanks, Tim.

Smothered Potatoes

2 lbs. red skin potatoes, quartered

3/4 cup deli style mustard

2 T. lemon juice

1 large onion, minced

1 tsp. oregano

2 (10 oz.) cans cream of celery soup

3 T. vinegar

Handful fresh parsley

1/2 tsp. garlic

1 tsp. dill

Combine all ingredients and pour over potatoes in greased pan. Bake for about one hour at 350 degrees.

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