"How does goulash sound for when it's my turn to make Sunday night supper for the youth group?" Meems was like that. She planned her special occasion meals weeks in advance.
I was pregnant with my third son when Meems shared the recipe with me.
A growing family necessitated goulash by the gallon.
"How does lentil soup sound for after the Baylor game?"
"Mom, we're not coming to Waco for that game until week after next. It's 8:30 in the morning and three little boys are howling for pancakes. I can't predict how I'm going to feel about lentil soup on a hot day in September after sitting under the blazing sun at a football game for hours and hours and hours."
"Well." There it is. That hanging motherly "well." "Well, Imma gonna do it anyway."
"It sounds good to me. I've been hungry for lentil soup."
Every single time we planned a trip to the Motherland, she started working on her menus before the "is that a good weekend for you" phone call ended. "How long has it been since you've had meatloaf? I think I'll make my homemade biscuits for Alan on Sunday morning before church!"
Now, about the goulash. Back in the early 70's - the "Jesus Freak," "Jesus Christ - the Real Thing," "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" days - the youth group at First UMC Waco was going strong. It was the happenin', groovy place to be. And, on Sunday and Wednesday nights, there was great food. Wednesday nights were the "church supper" nights. The fellowship hall in the basement would be packed with people of all ages sitting at long tables chatting over paper plates laden with typical church supper fare - cheesy chicken spaghetti, tossed green salad with Italian dressing, a buttery slab of garlic bread and a square of some sort of sheet cake.
Sunday night suppers were just for the high schoolers. Parents signed up to provide dinner for about 30 hungry teenagers. "Rich" parents might bring in barrels of KFC or boxes of pizza. Meems was a divorced, school teacher mom living on a penny-pinching budget. And yet, she made goulash, salad, and oatmeal cookies when her turn came. Bring on the rye bread and a big bottle of ketchup.
Thinking back, I wonder how much of our monthly grocery budget was used to create goulash-for-30. I can tell you with complete honesty that I would have played the single-mom-with-no-extra-cash-lying-around-at-the-end-of-the-month card to avoid having to brown five pounds of full-fat hamburger meat and thinly slice a dozen onions. For some mysterious reason, Mom's goulash did not include pasta. If I could travel back in time, I would blow her mind with that little life hack. Goulash for thousands by adding elbow macaroni.
While my mother was not a cerebral woman who spoke soothing tidbits of wisdom over her daughters to help them navigate the sometimes rugged terrain of life, she demonstrated even greater lessons. She participated in life. She raised her hand. She sliced onions until her houseshoes were drenched with the tears dripping down from her cheeks.
I have played the 2020 Sheltering-in-Place card to excuse myself from the complexities of life. Apparently, doing nothing is my default setting. During my quiet time this morning, it occurred to me that if the great people of the Bible hadn't participated in God's plans, the Jews would still be building pyramids in Egypt. Good old Moses. He was a participant. It would have been pointless for Moses' mom to plop my carcass in a basket and hide it in the bulrushes. Bushes would have burned and burned and burned. I'd just get hot and sweaty sitting around hoping that the Pharoah would toss me a crust of day-old bread.
Earlier I sat here at the table on my back porch staring at nothing for a bit letting that idea of participation sink in. Truth be told, I had a moment of lack-of-participation-shaming. Then, I remembered the goulash. Turns out Meems was full of unspoken sage advice all along. She spoke the language of browned hamburger meat and oatmeal cookies prepared in a tiny rent house kitchen while the Jesus Christ, Superstar soundtrack blasted from the stereo. "Whut's the buzz tell me what's a-happenin'?" Goulash was a-happenin'. Because Helen Kinzbach was a participant in life. I now have a new appreciation for "Participant" ribbons that are offered to those who seemingly do not "win."
Fun fact: I have never made goulash in my whole life. Something about choppin' all those onions.