A passage from Liberty by Garrison Keillor, with my emphasis: “I asked my sister-in-law to bring potato salad for the picnic today and she shows up with two big tubs of mush she bought at a gas station on the way up,” said Cindy. “Can you believe that? It’s like I asked her to bring meatloaf and she brought dog-food. What’s the mystery about making potato salad? You don’t know how to boil potatoes? Or a few eggs? You can’t chop celery? I don’t get it. I told her, ‘Laurie, you forgot how to make potato salad?’ She said, ‘What’s wrong with this?’ So I told her, ‘If you care about people, you ought to serve them decent food not something made in a factory three months ago and loaded with preservatives,’ and she got all sniffy. She said, ‘well, if you don’t want us to come, just say so,’ I want her to come but don’t bring garbage, okay?” When I read this, my mind took me straight to thoughts about my mom. She grew up in Iowa, and I thought about this because her cooking is a direct reflection of how much she cares for people. My mom is the mom that when someone gets sick and she volunteers to bring a meal, when the family returns the dishes, they always say that hers was the best…and they’re not just saying that! The only proof that I have that’s she’s the best cook is everyone’s testimony and my muffin top. With my parents being from Iowa, we took many a family vacation there, and Keillor’s Lake Wobegon captures not only the small town that I grew up in, but also the heart of Iowa. Every evening we would either dine with my grandparents, or with other family members, but I’m reminded of the bountiful tables at every dinner. Every night was like Thanksgiving, and in America’s breadbasket there is never a shortage of food. If Keillor’s analysis is right, and I think it is…then Iowa folks really cared. Everything was home cooked and made with love. I’ve never seen anything happen faster than an Iowa potluck. It was like winning the lotto, and within 24 hours lives were changed and souls were saved! But as I began to think about my mom’s cooking as a labor of love for people. I began to ask myself what it was that I do as a labor of love for people to show them that I really cared. And as I searched hard and long…I had a really hard time thinking about anything of real value that I do for the people that I care about. I thought that my writing surely contributes to society and especially the people around me…not likely as I checked my statistics on Google. Then, I thought about my sense of humor, surely that’s been a gift to some people. I mean being sarcastic and breaking awkward moments is not an easy thing to do, so there’s no doubt in my mind…but unfortunately there is.
What have I done to show people that I care? Does quality time with others, acts of service, gifts, physical touch, or words of affirmation count? I seriously spent a lot of time thinking about how I show people I care…and the only truthful and honest answer is that I show people I care through me. How I care isn’t making potato salad, although someday I hope to make potato salad as good as my mothers, but it’s more about what I do in the moment. Do I walk slowly through a crowd, do I smile, do I stop and listen, do I care? I pray that I do, and that I never stop caring for people. Just don’t complain if I bring potato salad in a cardboard box.