One of the benefits of modern technology in my life is the way it has allowed me to develop closer relationships with extended family. On my mother’s side, I am part of a group of cousins who are scattered in four states and separated by as much as a thousand miles. While I cannot remember the last time we were all physically together, group text messages allow us to share updates as well as family memories.
Recently, a series of texts led to memories of our grandmother’s kitchen and to summer days in Arkansas without air conditioning. Our grandmother and oldest aunt often could be found over a hot stove with the bountiful produce from their enormous garden, canning for the winter ahead. Among our favorite results of that work was our grandmother’s spicy tomato sauce. The garden ingredients were buckets of fresh tomatoes, sweet onions, bell peppers and cayenne peppers. Other ingredients included vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.
I managed to get the unwritten recipe from my aunt before her death 20 years ago. This is the time of the year when all of the garden ingredients are available at the Delaware Farmer’s Market, and with that produce, I have maintained my grandmother’s canning habits. The result might not be identical, but it is pretty close. There is nothing better in the winter than a piece of cornbread with lima beans or field peas, topped with the spicy tomatoes.
As our cousins shared their memories, I went to the pantry and found a jar from my last round of canning. I took a picture and added the photo to the text exchange. One of my cousins replied, “it’s like seeing an old friend.”
It’s like seeing an old friend.
I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been thinking about the old friends in my life. They include the people who were important in the earliest years in my life, many of whom have long since passed from this earth. They include the work of the hands of people who helped shape me, like my grandmother’s canned goods, the embroidered tea towels and the pot holders made from material scraps by my other grandmother, and cards printed by my father on his antiquated printing press. They include childhood memories of carefree summer days. They include the lessons I have carried from teachers at school, coaches on summer playgrounds, leaders in Scouting, and counselors at summer church camp.
It’s like seeing an old friend.
The other side of life in today’s highly connected technological world is the pace at which we live. It is a pace that too often robs of us the memories we cherish the most. It is a pace that both enables us to connect with people anywhere on the planet and at the same time feel increasingly disconnected from meaningful human relationships. It is a pace that leaves precious little time for friends, old or new. And, to be honest, that jar of spicy tomatoes I found in the back of the pantry is likely several years old, because I have not found or taken the time to practice my grandmother’s art more recently.
Perhaps the autumn of the year, when the more carefree days of summer are past and the earth has yielded its harvest yet one more time, is a good time to pause and remind ourselves of the importance of pausing to reflect, to recall those people and places and moments that have shaped us, and to acknowledge the importance of taking time to remember.
It could be like seeing an old friend again.
Rock Jones is president of Ohio Wesleyan University and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.