Hooker United Methodist Church (one of many Methodist churches along the corridors across lone highways of mid-Western America) is a beige-bricked building not far from Hooker Elementary (where bikes for them youngins’ are left unlocked!) and town center. With a population of around 2,000 people, Hooker is a small, small rural town in the Oklahoma panhandle (Texas County, to be exact). Texas is a thirty minute, corn-filled drive south, and New Mexico and Kansas are not far either. I saw a small picture in the local newspaper for last week that longingly referred to the counties in the panhandle as “no man’s land.” However, Hooker has been recently featured on the Travel Channel, so there’s certainly something to it. See link below. And no, no “hookers” were involved with the spotlight.
This is also my grandparent’s land too, as they have lived in their white house, under the most supreme maple tree for over 20 years. Lance and I came out for many summers when we were growing up. We ran through sprinklers, observed Glenda work beautifully in the kitchen, and went swimming – if good behavior allowed. I stood in the church hall a couple of days ago and realized my feet hadn’t touched this part of earth and soil for around 4 years.
That’s just too long.
We – my bubbly and sweet Aunt Noelle and I – were helping my step-grandmother, Glenda, and her team of women put together the salad bar lunches for local school teachers. They order a customized salad once per month, have it delivered, and the proceeds go to the work of the church. Once the olives, French fried onions, and cauliflower (among many others) finished, I briefed a couple of the women and my family on Rwanda with Facebook photos and stories. It’s relatively easy now at this point to develop an unplanned presentation on my experiences abroad; in 20 minutes I can cover a quick history of the country, the training program of Peace Corps, my living situation, the food, and teaching.
After, I went to take a stab in my vegetable – balsamic salad when Grandpa’s nearly 80-year old neighbor from across the street complimented my service in Rwanda by saying thank you.
What? How often has anyone actually said thank you following an explanation of the time I spent there?
She said my explanation made her more appreciative of what she has today. As a small girl, she grew up in a farmhouse complete with an outhouse, no electricity, and no running water. “Stinky” as I would discover was the nickname given to her by her late husband (as a joke, of course), has some of those amenities today but was quick to follow-up and say that that she has never forgotten life’s previous difficulties. Humbled, I just listened. I asked more questions and she gave more answers, ending with a passionate appreciation for Hooker United Methodist Church.
“I’m just so lucky to have this church community.”
Her husband having had passed 10 years ago, “Stinky” lives alone near the county’s golf course and hasn’t seen her Indiana-residing daughter in 5 years. The church loves her, supports her, and fills her. Small town or big city, it doesn’t really matter – this is the power, impact, and positive capability of CHURCH that should inspire us.
Fully realizing the continuous gifts of service that my grandparents provide to their church and community (they had at least 1-2 events or community projects to address daily), I also knew they had boundless knowledge of how to really work in the kitchen. Perhaps this is growing up: actually acknowledging that adults and our elders are wise well beyond our years. So wise, in fact, that’s it is so much better for us to be humbled in our lack of knowing and instead yearn to learn.
Glenda handed me “Fannie Farmer’s Country Cookbook” and I started to squeal with delight at the innate differences in milk, in cooking terms (broiled versus barbequed), and all the kinds of desserts you can feasibly create. Turns out Fannie is kind of awesome.
For some reason, something in me just “lit up” and I began to imagine the possibility of learning to really spend some time in the kitchen. I have always loved food, and even have enjoyed cooking, but really, I just move too dang fast in life and need to slow it down a bit. Slow it down, and cooking, baking, whatever it might be – that can get it’s full due.
Glenda spent a day teaching us exactly how to prepare (and can!) blueberry jam and peach butter while Grandpa explained and demonstrated precisely how to can tomatoes. They grow their own, and believe me, you’d want to save those savory red pieces of greatness for as long as possible.
Our 4-day stay included meals and foods such as the following:
*blueberry waffles (with apple butter syrup!!)
*shrimp avocado salad
*blackberry iced tea
*corn on the cob
We sat down at the table together several times each day and had this delicious food along with small-town small-talk, Oklahoma’s place in the Southern contingency, and of course, their beloved kitty-cats.
New memories made with my aunt, long roads of country terrain seen, and home-cooked meals every day, I was truly in a joyful place while visiting little Hooker, Oklahoma. That’s how your grandparent’s house should feel. I slept better than I had in months, gained at least 5 pounds, and have a nice, healthy sunshine glow on my skin. That’s family time in the summer, y’all – or at least that’s what I would hope it would be for me. God, I’m glad I’m back.
Really. Fully. Finally.