Hello, lovely readers! Today, we continue with my guest post series from fellow hope*writers about Fall, Legacy, and Traditions. Today’s post is from Jordan Williams, and I just love her imagery and use of words. I want to fall right into the places and spaces she talks about. Read on:
Opening the Windows
My people are windows-open people.
We are air-out-the-house, let-the-crisp-fall-in people. After the muggy summer on the east coast with house locked up and air conditioning running at a constant clip, those first, cool days mean a chance to open everything back up. On Saturdays and Sundays, the house gets a fresh breeze, window shears ribboning in all directions, rooms feeling a bit too crisp, a bit more open. As if to say, everything will be alright.
I learned this from my mother and still feel the pull to slide open the windows to the rush of chilled air when fall begins to appear — first in the breath, and then across the tree line, and finally in the heart of things. I pull on socks and sweaters all in the name of breathing well. To welcome the turn of nature indoors is to be receptive to new things. As we ought.
Is there anything so wonderful as a rush of sixty degree air, a peplum of curtains, and a kitchen counter dolloped with russet potatoes and apples? Apples without the wax-shine of the supermarket. Apples you picked and placed in wagons at an orchard, covered with dust and freckles, top hat leaves still attached. A butternut squash, smooth as wood. Something, anything, with cinnamon.
If fresh air were the only goalpost to autumn, it would be enough. But my people are also soup people. One-pot-on-the-stove-all-day people. There is chili as liturgy.
Everyone has their own way about chili. But still, you know chili when you see it. With or without beans, whatever meat you prefer, the state of the tomato inside. The menagerie of spices. What matters is that it is comfortable. There is deep-down warmth, a bowl, a spoon. There is always enough to go around.
We learned open windows. We learned chili.
One pound of beef, two cans of kidney beans, a large can of crushed tomatoes. Peppers and jalapeños. Salt, chili powder, cumin: the trinity of spices. A smell so delicious and nostalgic, it may as well be a hymn. There is simmering; there are newspapers curling around the edges as that air blows in, suddenly cold. There are thoughts of whipping up a serving of cornbread. There is always cornbread.
My people are chili-mac people. Even though we have southern heritage and I do not know a single person from the midwest, there is always elbow macaroni. There is shredded cheddar cheese, and avocados, and please keep the sour cream as far away from me as possible, thank you. Salted butter for the cornbread; sometimes as twelve little jewel-muffins from that blue Jiffy box, sometimes a golden coin in a cast iron skillet made perfectly from scratch. The oven keeps us warm while the windows keep us open.
So there is bowl and macaroni, a large ladle with a treasure of meet and beans, the jubilant cheese. A handful of cornbread. Oh, there are also corn chips. Chili is a ritual.
Perhaps the sweetness of this is the rush to get everything in the pot and under the lid followed by the waiting. Simmering is so near to patience it could be a fruit of the spirit. We hear the word simmer used with the connotation of anger bubbling under the surface. But why could joy not be a thing that simmers? What of love? Surely peace and patience have taken up residence under the lid of our lives and slowly produced the bubbles of good character. Does anything deepen the richness and flavor of our lives more than kindness? The self-control of cooking might be the best ritual we can practice and pass down.
As life is lived, we pick up different ways of being. What I know is that this can look like people telling other people their own experiences. Such as, “when I was your age…” But it can also look like trying your best to interpret what a handful of chili powder should look like in your inherited one-pot recipe. My hand is not my mother’s hand. The index card I jotted with notes of her voice over the phone will only give me a guideline for measurements. I can’t have enough cumin. I stopped putting in tomato paste. I abundantly salt my macaroni. But the heart is the same, the point. The meaning.
The windows are open.
In my life, I have had to leave some things behind because there was not enough room to keep everything from the past. I adapt, I grow, I observe patterns and try to keep my trajectory one of improvement. It takes a keen eye and a robust heart. But I have tried my best. I keep the soup with okra and succotash; keep the heat off until the last possible day; keep what feels fresh, and alive, and nourishing, and healthy. We are book people, apple cider people, baked ziti people. We are pie-bakers, mum-planters, pumpkin-placers. We are wreath-hangers, sock-wearers, and scarf-wrappers. We were not athletes so there were no Friday night lights. There are no children in our current generation, so school starting no longer brings the cocktail of energy and anxiety. We are people who call each other on the phone with the reminder that the harvest moon is tomorrow night. People who walk outside after the roasting pan has been cleansed to catch a glimpse of Starlink coursing by.
We are big air people.
Which, I think, is why we are prayer people. We fill our space with things that matter. Certainly when we gather to eat, but also before that. We are pray-without-ceasing people. There is prayer in rinsing the beans and washing the top of the tomato-full cans. Prayer in the meat-steam of browning ground beef. Amen with a generational palm-full of coarse salt thrown into boiling water — what a gift. The simmering, the trying not to watch, the blurp of tomato-rich substance as wooden spoon is offered as helper. The body-jolt of a slammed-shut door across the house from the suck of open windows. The journey to reopen. Pulling on a thicker sweater, remembering to pay a bill, checking the pasta: contentedness, diligence, wisdom. These are the prayers of a life fully-connected with God.
I am hard-pressed to be anyone other than myself on a Saturday in early fall. When the season is tilting, just as the loss of light, toward altered routines and ways of dressing and eating, I have the opportunity to expand into it, not withdraw from it. I could batten-down the hatches and eat August strawberries I froze for safekeeping, or I could lift open my windows and stand there breathing and chilled for a moment. I could kneel down in the kitchen and excavate the largest soup pot from the cabinet, just like my mother, and get to work on the prayer of potatoes. I think, as the days fold smaller into origami birds, I will be the thing that opens up. As rising corn bread, a delight. As, “Don’t touch the skillet handle, it just came out of the oven” is, sometimes, the best way I can think of to say how much I love you.
Jordan Williams is a poet, writer and observer of life, who claims language as her love language. Her writing creates doorways to depth and provides readers space to think and feel their own thoughts without telling them what those should be. Through nostalgia and metaphor, her work explores the beauty in absolutely everything and she believes that even poetry can be prayer. You can find Jordan on her blog at www.onebirdblog.com or @onebirdblog on Instagram.