from the Farm
A Surprisingly Good Grunt
I was born the same year that Glenfield celebrated its Centennial. By that time, it was a well turned out community, far removed from its rugged beginnings as a logging outpost at the head waters of the Meduskeag River. Woods roads and cow paths had become tree-lined streets, forests had given way to farm land, businesses and amenities had sprung up to meet the needs of the growing community, and generations had breathed their "first and last" in our small valley town. There was a visible pride in the way the town presented itself and in what it offered to its residents: those who had taken it from infancy, through short-pants and into maturity. In those days, one was either from Glenfield or "from away," and while the distinction was definitive, we really didn't see ourselves as different from the rest of the world. It never occurred to us that some might consider our ways humorous or odd: that is, not until the day that Mother served a "grunt" to the minister for dessert.
The goldenrod was in full bloom, and we had just finished gathering the blueberries for the season when Reverend Nathaniel Nash arrived at the Glenfield Station on the Thursday afternoon train. He and his wife were from away: Georgia to be exact. He was a big man, spoke funny, was rather soft around the middle; and to everyone's surprise, his wife immediately put up a flimsy umbrella, even though there was wasn't a cloud in the sky. My parents, Uncle Hank and Fannie Cratty, along with a smattering of parishioners and town folk had gathered -- mostly out of curiosity -- to welcome the new minister.
For the first few minutes, in true New England fashion, we extended a "silent welcome," which allowed us time to size up the situation and formulate our first impressions. My father and Uncle Hank, hung back, shuffled awkwardly from one foot to the other, and this being a work day, they appeared a little bigger than their dress clothes would normally permit. It was my mother, who, with a pleasant reserve, smoothed her hair one last time, and stepped forward in greeting. Her welcome was returned with such exuberance and display of affection that Mother was momentarily at a loss for words (the only time my father could remember that actually happening). After an awkward silence, she regained her composure and extended some Glenfield hospitality. "Now, Saturday evening, we will have you out to the farm for baked beans, and I'll plan to send you home with a grunt. That will set you in fine stead for your first sermon in Glenfield."
Mother had a reputation for being an excellent cook, and you could almost hear the pride in her voice as she proffered her invitation. It was now the minister's turn to fall silent, as his Southern complexion drained to a perfect Maine pallor, and Mrs. Nash looked like she might faint. Aunt Fannie confirmed that Mother was well known throughout Glenfield, and beyond, for her grunts. But even with that assurance, however, Reverend Nash seemed to find small comfort in the quality and reputation of Mother's grunts.
Saturday night arrived and brought with it our first meal with Reverend and Mrs. Nash. The kitchen was drenched with appetizing smells, the table was set with the good dishes, and I was on my best behavior.
"And now for that grunt I promised you," Mother said as she cleared the supper dishes and placed the most beautiful blueberry cobbler on the table. A look of relief and amusement spread across the faces of our guests.
"Phew! You would never believe what we feared, uh, expected..." Reverend Nash began.
We all laughed like old friends as the minister explained their confusion and apprehension about the "grunt."
In that moment, it was our differences that brought us together and laid the foundation for a lasting friendship.
Like Mother used to say, "God doesn't always give us what we expect or deserve: most times, He gives us something surprisingly better."
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Farms, Inc., 2008
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