I was 16. It was clear to me that the generation before me had operated without the infallible wisdom of our cohort. We were ready to right the wrongs of those before us. Just fresh from a political rally, I walked into the house and heard the whistling from the kitchen. Bing Crosby — another symbol of the hypocrisy that was a demonstration of all that led to Watergate. I preferred the gospel according to Bruce Springsteen and the lessons of the Rolling Stones.
Having inherited my father’s quick tongue and tempered firebrand, I could feel my desire to explain why it was necessary for me to refuse to engage in the domestic role of the past to assume my ascent into the new position of women. We were simultaneously best of friends and greatest of irritants to one another, but I knew that whistling had nothing to do with music…it was a way to keep from crying or despairing or saying something that would hurt someone else’s spirit. I knew her from the inside out, and the tone of her whistle cracked the shell of my self-righteous indignation at all that was wrong with the world, and love was the plowshare that tilled the possibility of just being present.
Instead of telling my Mother why I was refusing to follow in her footsteps, I washed my hands and saw a tear rolling down her cheek, but I knew better than to ask what was wrong — she was of the generation of farm women who said “I love you” in action more often than words. Her way of loving was to feed us — in more ways than the body.
I knew the routine, I had been doing it since I was old enough to pull up a chair to the counter. The first week of Advent — roll the refrigerator cookies until the roll was about 12″ long and 2″ wide — a roll of butter, egg, sugar and remembrance. With two layers of waxed paper and one of aluminum foil, the roll would remain in the back of the ‘fridge’ until the third week of Advent. The first week was all about preparation — it was the third week that a hint of joy could crop in. This was a serious week of preparation. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the pan and something in me melted as I felt the gleam of “all is right with the world.” The suet bucket.
Maybe a bit of Christmas magic or the angel of my grandmother sitting on my shoulder. I asked her to tell me the story of the suet pudding — the real story — we never stopped working, but for some reason my heart was open, and instead of hearing about the women who had chosen a life that I wanted to reject as irrelevant, I realized that I had it all backwards. Maybe for the first time, I heard the heart story…hidden in the guise of suet pudding.
It’s the story held in the scripture of life…and in our family, it’s held in the suet pudding pan. As I listened that day, I heard about Bridget Lyons coming across the prairie in the old covered wagon and the pudding recipe that has been made in every generation since then — to remember the journey. In those days, when the wagon journey across the prairies was most rugged, they had to keep hope. “Hope happened in the kitchen of life” my mother explained to me, “because kitchen isn’t a place — it’s an act of love.”
In every wagon, there was a special pot where the precious commodities of dried fruit were collected and valued like gold with the intention of saving it for the Advent suet pudding, only eaten on the Feast of Christmas. Collected too were bits of fat (suet), dried and kept to be added for flavor and to preserve the pudding in the four weeks of waiting it would have. And in the combining of the ingredients passed down from generation to generation in the oral tradition of biblical women, there was remembering of the year gone by, those lost in the torrents of challenge and the new ones born to continue to make the pudding and be the love. Suet pudding wasn’t just something we made to mark a holiday, it was a ritual of remembrance that fermented into celebration. Something like the prairie version of the incarnation.
As I listened again to the story of my namesake who rode the wagons, something shifted in me. The women I had minimized a couple hours before became sages. In our family, it wasn’t our way to dissect the significance or reflect on the experience or even for me to ask what the tear stained cheek was about. Whatever my mother’s suffering had been that day had now become redemptive because we made the pudding and wrapped it in towels to sit until Christmas eve. And in the same way, she blessed my passion for justice and action (as she did throughout our shared life journey) and I was grateful to be blessed. There are certain things for which there are no words…only the silence of being present.
It’s suet pudding time…my brother has the pan…so that a new generation can know what it feels like to have your heart cracked open with “kitchen.” It’s an act of love. It’s Advent
That day…in that kitchen in Springfield, Illinois, my mother’s love looked past my self-righteous adolescent snare and saw in me what others had seen in her. Instead of engaging in debate, we rolled cookies and made suet pudding and remembered.
It’s all about presence — being here. Today, my Advent Action is about being present to at least one other person…and instead of convincing them of my truth…I am going to make some suet pudding (without the suet or the pudding or the pan)…the kind of love that happens when I stop being so sure I have the answer and I notice a single tear and decide to just be.