From the Editor
Years ago, one winter when I was a young adult, I copied a recipe from the stained and partially crumpled card I had searched for and then finally found in the back of my mother’s recipe box. That recipe, in my mind the original recipe, was one we had used often when I was little, and I wanted it to take with me to add to my growing collection in my tiny apartment kitchen. As I worked through the recipe, I realized I did not recognize the handwriting I was reading. Your father, at one point, wanted to be an architect, my mother told me when I asked her whose writing it was. That is his squared and careful “architect” handwriting. At some subsequent point, his handwriting became cursive and loopy, still careful and precise, but more fluid. Perhaps more him. At least more the him that I know. It seems that the square edged version of him has been tucked away, set aside, or lost.
I found another copy of the recipe recently in the painted tin recipe box at our family camp, written in an almost illegible scrawl, the paper even more yellowed and spattered. My grandfather had signed it, with the date 1955 after his name. The recipe was his originally, and at some point my father had created the copy I knew from my childhood for himself. I then copied this recipe into my own handwriting, my handwriting of that time, young, fresh, and careful. A lifetime ago now, a life before marriage and children.
That recipe is for Potato Fudge. My father’s family is from Northern Maine, potato country. I have carried my copy with me, packed it away for each move. And I have used it at some point during most of the winters since then. When we were little and celebrating Christmas with my grandparents, my brother and I would sneak to the unheated breezeway between their garage and house, and open the closet door in which my grandmother tucked her tray of fudge up high on a shelf. Her fudge pan, chosen because it was already a bit bent, dented, and with cut lines etched into the bottom from the many many years of fudge cutting, was always there, with a piece of tin foil over it. I remember the smell as we pulled back the foil for just one more piece of fudge, hoping nobody would notice another sliver missing.
Choose the smallest potato in the bin the recipe begins. There are so many assumptions, even in that first instruction. The assumption that each family has a basement with a root cellar, and in it a bin full of the winter’s store of potatoes. And I love that despite its name, you choose the smallest potato in the bin. There is, apparently, such a thing as potato fudge being too potatoey.
I make potato fudge in my own way now. I use a stand mixer even though the recipe calls for me to mix in confectioners sugar until arm is worn out. And I use semisweet instead of unsweetened chocolate. I splash in extra vanilla. And I choose a rather large potato each time, my quiet rebellion, wrapping my hand around a potato that I have grown here in my garden, wanting its flavor and color to show itself in the final result. The recipe reminds you, before the chocolate fully hardens, to score lines into the top layer to break the fudge along. I always forget this part, and as a result my fudge has edges that are uneven, jagged, and imprecise. Such is my imperfect style of cooking. And living.
And I am sure each year to make some for my father. And even though the fudge is not really like what his parents made, and he did not become an architect and his life turned out differently than he first imagined it as a young adult, and I am not exactly what he imagined his child becoming back then, I think he still enjoys it when I hand him my version of potato fudge. I think mostly he enjoys the fact that I still make it. And no matter what I change and add and tweak and forget, there is still that small ball of starch that started it all. It all begins with that seed, that original bonding agent.
* * *
I have come to think that, as much as it is about guiding and helping our children grow, parenting is also a process of re-identifying ourselves. An opportunity for us to choose what we accept to keep of that which came before us: genetics, family traditions, values, beliefs, expectations, and the experiences we ourselves have had up to this point of being cared for, of growth, of change. As parents, consciously or unconsciously, there are so many moments in which we consider and rethink who we want to show ourselves to be to our children. We take a bit here, and discard a scrap there. And we rework it. The cover image by Annie Anderson takes my breath away each time I see it, embodying this moment when the nature and nurture of our past churns about behind us and pulls at our feet as we step forward.
There is a factor that can sometimes be forgotten, sometimes gets lost in the swirl of our hopes and fears, goals and blunders, for our children. And that is the existence of choice in inheritance, that we do in fact have it, through whatever means, be it awareness and reflection or taking a similar or a very different path. There is power in this, to create ourselves, build ourselves out of the bits laying around our feet and at our backs. And there is the resulting power that we pass to our children when we demonstrate to them how we can create our own path. That we do just this, stand back and question our actual belief systems and change our trajectories. And this process allows us to be surprised, untethered, and open. To add in more sugar, more flavor than our recipe calls for, because that is what feels right to us. Often, what we thought we had inherited, the stuff, the heirlooms, the genes, the seeds, that’s easily stepped around. More powerful, more persistent, are the belief systems and values and ideas. And the story we make of them.
As is so often the case, our children embrace this process far better than we do. As I walk through our house, I find small piles here, collections there. Items saved on a shelf. Sometimes I come upon the kids huddled together with remnants of some craft, toys from many years ago, and a recent find, something I may have tried to throw out several times, now the hero of their story. Always with a good deal of laughter. And I wonder: how this is working, how this is all coming together into a story, these unmatched bits and strange combinations? And then I listen, and I watch them. And I realize, it works, they make it work. They gather what they want — that which helps them to weave the story they are crafting — and step forward. Their gait, their scrawl, the marks and discarded items they leave behind them; it is uniquely them, and certainly ever changing.
There is so much goodness in this issue. So much thoughtfulness about this work of parenting we do and about the world our children will inherit. This editing process, and these people, the contributors to this issue, contained within. They have given me a great deal to think about. Collected here you will find passions that connect across generations, through Alabama football for Terry Barr, through hopes that our children might get it better than us for Michael Laser, by noticing similarities across generations for Leah Leach, and through tangible items as well, such as recipes for Marisa McClellan and books for Janet Reynolds and seeds for Katie Spring. Alana Chernila writes about the passing of love through written words, when the direct link between generations has been broken. And Helen Peppe reminds us that sometimes it is better to learn these things together.
And people from very different walks of life, who follow very different courses, they all have commonalities. Ron Lieber and Ben Hewitt, ostensibly approaching the question of higher education from different angles, both beautifully and eloquently articulate the importance of teaching our children about wants versus needs. Both speak of acknowledging that the work is often within ourselves as parents and that we must make our questioning and reasoning and wondering transparent for our children. Finding these commonalities, stumbling upon them as I worked through these essays, has been such a positive lesson for me.
With so many perspectives and points of focus, what each of these people have in common is their desire to consider, looking behind and looking ahead. Pondering. Trying to decide where they land, what they are going to try next, and what they believe. They offer a view of the world so full of a multitude of possible meaningful paths. So when Jack Algiere reminds us, entreats us, to embrace what is new while reconnecting with our collective inheritance of the earth, he is putting words to the challenge of our times, to reconnect and live in harmony with everything else that lives here with us.
And so, I hope you will enjoy this issue. I know I have enjoyed the process of putting it together for you. We all start with our seed, our potato. And we add our own flavors and sweetness, our own ingredients and memories. Stirring it in this convenient bowl, one that all of us create here in this space. My arm is a bit worn out from the stirring. I am placing it now on a shelf to take its final form. I am sure I have forgotten something and the pieces may come apart with uneven edges. But what I hope you take from it, as I have, are the stories. I hope it inspires us all to wonder and question and ponder together: what are we doing here?
And when you are done, I hope you find yourself as grateful as I am to the contributors for their willingness to share so openly of themselves, of their thoughts, of their experiences. To provide us with the chance to inherit from them.
I wish you all good reading and I hope you enjoy what we have made.