I am admiring the picture on the cover of Alexander McCall Smith’s book The Full Cupboard of Life. His fictitious stories from Botswana are an easy and humorous read. The cupboard referred to is typical; containing four plates and four cups, two bowls, a couple of pots, a little cooking oil, and a teapot. That’s the entire kitchen.
This past year I moved from an amazing farm and a beautiful log home to a temporary home with my office in one box and my kitchen in another. In my kitchen box was tandoori spice, sea salt, two plates, two cups, one pan, some cutlery, two bowls, a tea and coffee pot. All my other possessions went into storage. As we unloaded into the storage unit, I was overcome with the feeling that I still had so much!
As a traveller I have had the privilege of living like a queen and the honour of dining with the poorest of the poor. From the chef’s table to the little dung stove on the dirt floor, each meal was greatly appreciated. It was food — beautiful food — and an immense and spiritual blessing to a weary wanderer.
- More with Brenda Schoepp on the Alberta Farmer: Small indulgences – the experience of food can be priceless
The tiny meal of rice served on a banana leaf by a servant girl was as memorable as the finest meal prepared by an executive chef. And as I learned to live out of a backpack or single bag, I also learned to enjoy the smallest of graces. The cake the Italian hikers baked for us in Peru when it was not safe to venture out and there was no other food left. We ate that cake while the bullets screamed by and the train was overturned, hanging on to the moment as though it was our last — and it could have been. The late meal served on the sidewalk in Argentina as children surrounded us with their questions and the owner proudly accepting Canadian currency to display his good fortune and proof of our visit. The little cups of nuts in a circle on the floor shared with us and the gods on a festival day in India and the speared fish grilled over an open fire at a coastal village.
The epicentre of our lives in the country is often around the kitchen table. It is in this space that we train our children, say our prayers, decide on and then execute a business deal, weep for our losses, and laugh out loud. The cupboard is always remarkably full with the graces of summer set in shiny jars or frozen for a thaw on a winter day. There is no shortage of simple abundance.
There will be farm kitchens this winter (it may be yours), where the stress of farming and ranching hangs over the table like a damp mist. It does not however, mean the cupboard is empty. The food bill might be trimmed, the lights shut off a little earlier, trips cancelled, or tough decisions made — but the cupboard is full to overflowing with community support, extra hugs from the kids, understanding, faith, and the good fortune of experiencing the journey together.
As a young single mother I remember the days of so little. We lived on $600 a month, had an old half-ton with a slant six under the hood, wore second-hand clothes, and made food really stretch. We still fondly laugh about a puff wheat cake we were generously given and that we made last for a week. The children gently remind me how much they loathed that garden and the work that came with it. But we always had enough and our simple lives kept us close.
Don’t get me wrong: Having plenty is much more fun and much less stressful, but when days are set like stones we seek small victories and tender mercies. And our definition of abundance may differ. While some may be stressed about not getting a new John Deere tractor or making a payment, another family may truly be hungry. There is always someone in greater need.
Our grace and compassion, discreet aid, and continuous verbal support may not seem like much of a sacrifice. But to the family in need, it is a gift. I recall the words of an elderly stranger whom I helped: “The world is round my dear, the world is round.”
So if you are on the receiving end of a little help from neighbours and friends, relax and enjoy the spirit in which the gift was given. Because the world is round and your time to help another lies wrapped like a secret in the future.
Regardless of the size of your kitchen, may God grant you a full cupboard, in this life! May you be curious and kind, accepting and generous, caring and cared for. And above all, thankful.