The signs of fall are unmistakable in my part of the country. Golden aspens shimmer in the crisp breeze and crimson leaves float through the air. Weekend visitors flock to apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and intricate corn mazes that farmers have carved into their fields. Canned food drives and Coats for Kids programs are in full swing. The comforting aromas of warm soup and a crackling fire fill our homes. Just as the animals prepare for colder weather, there is something almost instinctual about our desire to make the most of the last days of temperate weather, stock up on autumn’s colorful offerings, count our blessings, and nurture, not just those we love, but the community as a whole.
Now that we’ve comfortably settled into our school routines, gathering friends together around the dinner table becomes a Friday night tradition. With my friends, this started in late September, when Susan casually mentioned that she’d made a big pot of chili (too much for just her family) and it would save her freezer space if we would bring the kids over and help them finish it. Within hours, there were six adults sharing stories around the kitchen island and nine children planning a circus in the playroom. The next week, Lee called to say he’d just brought home a new fire pit for the backyard and had soup on the stove. Once again, the week’s tensions fell away as we gathered around the campfire, laughing and roasting s’mores.
When our turn came, I knew better than to plan a large meal. No matter how many assurances of, “Don’t bring anything, I have it all under control, ” I knew no one would come empty handed. Nancy’s always sure to bring an appetizer or dessert, along with an excuse for going all out. Sometimes it’s a simple collection of cheeses, pears, and spiced walnuts (because, “I bought them at the Farmer’s Market last week and I have way too much. ”). To our gathering, she brought her famous lemon bars (because, “The girls really wanted to make them. ”). After Susan arrived with a spread made from cannelini beans, sage, garlic, and olive oil, a loaf of good, crusty bread, and an armload of games for the kids, I knew we were in for another memorable evening.
As I greeted my friends, each bearing a gift from their own kitchens, I was reminded of the Children’s folktale, Stone Soup. It’s a story about a group of individuals who don’t have enough to eat but, when they come together as a community, bring all they have to the table to create a sumptuous stew. Our friends are like that. Each of us, with our own personalities and experiences, bring joy and support to one another.
I gazed around that night, feeling lucky to have found such a warm group of friends, and remembered the gratitude wreath my family creates each year for Thanksgiving. We build a wreath of autumn leaves, each displaying a written message about what we are thankful for. Lacking a pile of leaves, I asked my guests to grab a gourd from the centerpiece, gave them each a permanent marker, and told them to write anything that came to mind. When we were through, we filled a glass vase with the gourds and placed it between us on the table. The small pumpkin on top simply said, “Good Friends. ”
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