The Leaving Song

I’ve been getting attached to things that aren’t mine anymore, things that have moved on, most especially since I have been reading the “American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating & Drinking.” It was published in 1964 and is chock full of old American recipes, including the famous Chicken Corn Soup and Fastnachts that were staples of my German paternal grandparents.

And I am lonely. Lonely for something I never had– the idea of the past that is romantic, that was never mine to own. It’s all floating here in the pages of this Cookbook, a mirror of the lovely ache of imagine memories etched in my heart.

Between the Midwest, that ocean of good grass, and the Pacific, that ocean of salty water, lies almost every landscape known to man. Those landscapes produce almost every form of food known to man.” — Paul Engle, American Heritage Cookbook

I settle down to dinner and eat the soup and find it very satisfying, even more so because I made it, and more so because I grew the carrots in our garden.

It was a time of close-up smells of rich tastes, of food handled by the same person who would ultimately eat it.”

But soon enough I’ve finished it and the bowl is not only empty but dirty as well, and so is the pan I cooked it in, and the freezer I stored it in, and the garden where I grew it. And I have to work hard, again, to achieve that sense of happiness and satisfaction. The winter is coming on. The sun dips below the horizon and despite outward appearances, I am alone, and all that is left are some words and measurements in this old cookbook.

When the first settlers came to Iowa, they laboriously cleared land in the woods along the rivers, intimidated by those broad, open spaces of the grassy prairies, so unlike the eastern countryside they had known. Gradually they moved out of their woods and onto that rich soil...”

When I am ready, I’ll look up from the small page and smaller letters and let the loneliness overtake me. It is a prairie night, with nothing to light it but the stars and a sliver moon. From the fractured light, the reminder of the past and the possibility of the future meet. I let myself disappear.

When the possibility of it has swallowed me, then I’ll be able to stop, open my eyes. I’ll be able to see in the darkness, how gradually the light is forming, and the space around me is warming. The loneliness is not an empty room or a darkness– it is the cold prairie night filled with stars, the weeping sap forming a maple ice facemask while silvery fish scamper beneath a wide frozen lake.

“At such times, all normal standards of bulk and number vanished.”

“…And all you know of where the road goes
Is some place far and unknown.
You would think
You would have gotten used to it all by now.
But each day it just gets harder,
Every journey alone
Never knowing if you’ll make it
Back home somehow.

“And it’s hard not to want to turn around,
And it’s hard not to want to back on down.
We’re only as brave as we think we are,
Only as brave.

“And it’s hard not to want to turn it down,
For some guaranteed, soul crushing
Merry-go-round.
It would have driven you
Straight into the ground,
Driven you down…

–Leaving Song, Mary Chapin Carpenter

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