When Sophie returned to Helen’s an hour later, she was loaded with an armful of groceries and a need to cook. Cooking was how she released tension and escaped from thinking about something that was bothering her. Scraping and grating carrots by hand felt really good to her just now. Helen didn’t have a lot of appliances, and Sophie wouldn’t have used a food processor if she had one. The manual labor was relaxing. Soon the house was filled with aromas of cider glazed pork chops, carrot gratin, and fried potatoes. Helen followed the scent of dinner into the kitchen.
“Gal, you sure know how to cook! I can hardly wait to eat!” she exclaimed. “Where did you learn to cook like that? Did your mama cook? ”
“No, it was self-defense.” Sophie quipped. “If you want to eat, you better learn to cook.”
There was a long pause as Sophie decided to tell Helen her story. For some reason, she felt very comfortable around Helen, not least of all because Helen reminded her of her own grandmother. What she couldn’t speak about were all the experiences of her day which continued to simmer in her. That felt lonely, and she missed Owen terribly.
“I was the only child of an only child. My mother—and father—died when I was eight. My father had been drinking. My mother didn’t want to get into the car with him, but he insisted he was fine, and she chose to believe him.”
“Oh, sweet Jesus, I am so sorry. You poor lamb.” Helen’s drew her breath in sharply.
“So I was mostly raised by my grandmother, who never did forgive my father and would have nothing to do with his family from that day either. She was a horrible cook, so at age 8 she turned the kitchen over to me. I learned from cookbooks in the library.”
“You don’t say.” Helen could hardly believe there could be a grandmother who couldn’t cook. “Is she still alive?”
“No. She had a stroke during my freshman year of high school. She didn’t die until I was a sophomore in college. I was very fortunate. I lived with a friend’s family for a few months after she went into the nursing home. When it became clear she would not be well enough to be my guardian, the state stepped in and put me in foster care. The first family they placed me with was a nightmare. They only took me on to care for all the other children they were fostering and getting paid for.”
“I know that happens more often than I care to think about.” Helen added.
“I was lucky though. Another place opened up for me with a couple who had been fostering unaccompanied minors from southeast Asia, retired to travel for a while, and then decided to foster someone closer to home after their trip to China. My social worker saw that it would be a perfect fit, since I would be emancipated after a few years. It was better than I expected, and I keep in touch with them even now. They took me to their church, where I went on youth group mission trips. They encouraged me to think about college, and helped me find the grants and scholarships to make it possible.”
“You were one lucky girl.” Helen patted her arm.
“No, I take that back. It must have been horrible to lose your parents, and then your grandmother, but it sure is clear God had plans for you. And here you are, Pastor Sophie. I’m right glad God brought you here to us.”
“What about you Helen? Have you always lived here?”
“I sure have. Right here in this house, in fact. I was born in the kitchen. I was my mother’s firstborn, and she didn’t know what was happening to her and to hear her tell it I just dropped like a spring lamb. Hard to believe it now but I was so tiny no one expected me to live except my grandmother. She put me in a shoebox and kept me in a dresser drawer near the cookstove.”
Sophie could hardly imagine. Clearly, this was a different time, but also a different place than the world her grandmother knew.
Raised all my seven children here, brought two husbands here—one after the other, not at the same time you know,” Helen laughed. I’ve been widowed two times. I had fifteen babies, and I still have six of them. They’re all grown of course.” Helen laughed again, although Sophie wondered how she could laugh at all after all of that.
“Seems like we are both well acquainted with grief, as the prophet Isaiah said. But by his stripes we are all healed it says.” Sophie began to realize that Helen knew her bible verses backwards and forwards, and contemplated them daily. It wasn’t like her bible knowledge, refined by her seminary training, but it was a training of the heart. Helen continued, “I know it’s hard to believe it some days, but I think that’s why God called you here to us. You can understand us.”
Without knowing it, Helen spoke to the questioning doubt that had been stirring in Sophie’s soul all afternoon. All the pain she witnessed that day freshened the pain of her own past, and she didn’t know what to do except to run away from it. She wasn’t going to run away. She knew that now.
Sophie fell asleep on the couch after dinner, and Helen fell asleep as she did every night—in her chair, watching Jeopardy. Sophie didn’t even hear the phone ring before Helen nudged her and told her that Owen was on the phone. Owen called every night, since he could call her from his cell phone. Tomorrow night, he would be here for the weekend. For now, the sound of his voice would have to do.