Sunday, January 29, 2012

Linda Simoni-Wastila – Letter from a Friend





Once upon a time, when my jean size was enormous somewhat larger, Linda Simoni-Wastila sent me a jar of homemade peach jam. I gobbled it up, so fast the postage stamp wasn't even dry yet. It looked, and tasted, like she had reached out into the sky and captured sunshine with a butterfly net, then mixed it with crystalline sugary sweetness and preserved it, with love, in a pretty glass jar. 


The jam is long gone but its flavour lingers. When I think of Linda, my thoughts are tinged soft with peach.

I know a number of Lindas (when I was in school there were as many Lindas as Cathys and Susans) so sometimes Dave has a hard time knowing who I'm talking about. "Which Linda?" he'll say, when I mention a story she has written, or something witty she has posted on one of her blogs, leftbrainwrite or bluetruedream. All I have to say is, "The jam Linda," and he nods and says, "Ahhh."

Funny, isn't it, how we come to identify our blogging friends with such labels. I'm glad that it's jam that labels Linda with Dave, because I have a much more sobering label that forever links me with her. We've both lost our fathers; me, a few years back, hers, not all that long ago. Whenever I write about my dad, Linda is there with a reassuring comment. The same when she writes about hers. I realize that everyone in the world can be connected by grief, but somehow our own connection has solidified over the last couple of years by this sadness.

We understand each other. And that's good.

While I feel like I know her intimately, what I actually know about Linda wouldn't fill more than a couple of paragraphs. She lives in the United States, somewhere near Baltimore, Maryland. She's a part-time writer, like me, only she's way more committed and has actually finished a book, and we hooked up through Friday Flash. She's a mom, she's an academic, she's a minister's wife and she's a fabulous cook. She takes writing classes, she's on board with the Weight Watchers program (but I mean, pffft, she's like Twiggy next to me) and apparently she's as bad at cross-country skiing as I am. She struggles with the business of the everyday, like all of us, and somehow she keeps the many and varied aspects of her life in balance. 

Linda is observant, intelligent and sensitive. She has a quality of dignity about her; a gentle strength, that shines through every word she writes. 

One of the words she writes the most is "peace." She signs every comment with it. And when you see it, that signature word, that peace, you feel her spirit, her quiet goodness, her offer of friendship, and sometimes, when you're feeling low, it is powerful enough to make you weep.



Hello friend!

I hope this letter finds you happy, writing like a mad woman on your novel, and not pondering funeral songs. I am, per usual, in the midst of chaos, but what else is new? Busy suits me, the alternative not a healthy one. Mostly I am consumed with work and this smorgasbord I am hosting for church folks. A friend is helping, but when we came up with the idea, we forgot the point of a smorgasbord is a LOT of food, which means a LOT of baking and curing and saucing. So, I write to you in between bread risings and cookie batches. Please forgive me if I sound confused—I likely am.

*

It is late here. Three loaves of Pulla cool on wire racks. The house smells of yeast and cardamom and I want to saw off an end, smear butter over the still-warm bread, but I think – what would Cathy do? You would walk-away; after all, you can walk away from Christmas cookies. You are a better woman than me, so I compromise: a small piece, no butter. Good enough for company, and still within my daily points.

Tomorrow will tempt me. But to be safe, I planned low-fat options (ta-da!), like cucumber rounds topped with salmon and a dab of wasabi-infused cream cheese. Tomorrow I will blow Weight Watchers, but that is what bonus points are for. Come Sunday, back to salad and veggies. By the way, I don’t think I would have returned to Weight Watchers without your public bravery, so thank you. Knowing you are battling similar temptations helps, a lot. And now the oven timer is dinging, I thought I was done baking…

*

It is early morning. The sun slants low over the treetops. Lea, my baby girl, practically a tween (when did that happen?!), sits beside me while I write to you (she says hi), watching robins pull worms and grubs from the grass. There are a hundred birds at least. A red-headed bird flies into their midst. The flock rises in a chattering cloud and flies to the safety of the pear tree. Lea runs upstairs for ‘the bird book’ and finds the woodpecker page. We deduce, based on size and shape, the intruder is a red-bellied wood-pecker. My aunt gave me that book when I was my daughter’s age. I feel the tug of family and history, of people I have loved in this life, and the morning turns bitter-sweet.

*

To sit, at last, to sit. The smorgasbord went well—the guests laughed and talked, their tongues looser from the beer and glogg. They left with full, happy bellies, the best I could hope for. My family has scattered to other corners of the house. I sip a small glass of white wine while I write. Peace. Yes.

Making this meal took more work than I ever imagined. Preparing these foods, many for the first time, I felt kinship with my grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, cousins. Kneading the Pulla dough, infusing the milk with cardamom, braiding the tubes into loaves, I imagined Mumu beside me, whispering the steps, guiding my hands. Brewing the glogg reminded me of my grandfather simmering the mixture of wine, port, and brandy in a soup pot in the week before Christmas. After he died, my mother continued the tradition, and now I make the ancestral potion. The sweet smell of glogg on the stovetop will always connect me to my mother and her father.

Food plays such an integral role in my memories. I love food, to make it, to eat it, to write about it. In one novel, my character Phoebe makes Pulla and remembers her mother, dead over a decade, and feels overwhelming grief. But as she massages the dough, sadness turns to the realization that everything she needs from her mother she has already received—a strength she can invoke anytime by the simple act of making bread, by remembering.

Preparing these ‘memory’ foods feels like small sacred acts, like resting flowers at gravesites. A way to honor my family and how they have shaped me and, in turn, passing memories to my children.

Anyway, enough of this sentimental mush. One more week before classes start, enough time to research snipers, Afghanistan geography, and hammer out Jeremiah’s story. Who is Jeremiah? You’ll find out soon enough, once I get down his bones. And I can’t wait to meet the characters you have cooked up this past year. So lucky, aren’t we, to love who we love, and to live as we do. For that I am grateful, just as I am grateful for your friendship. So take care, you. Hug your boys close, then tell them to hug you for me.

Love and peace, Linda

35 comments:

  1. I loved Linda's descriptions of the smorgasbord preparations. I have long been a fan of her writing at her blog--always colourfully described and full of life. I look forward to learning more about Jeremiah too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I heard somewhere that Jeremiah loves a bullfrog but I guess we'll have to wait for Linda's book to come out...

      Delete
    2. Jeremiah does love a bullforg, and he does play a mean guitar. But he really likes his Win-Mag 300 best.

      Actually, he really is a sensitive killer ;^)

      Delete
  2. Linda sounds like a soulmate to me - I shall be trying out her Pulla bread recipe!

    There is a simple satisfaction in being able to provide nourishment not only for the soul but also for the body - and the link to generations past makes it like an act of remembrance! It reminds me of my own mother, who was a confectioner and baker. Like Linda, I can see a thread of family tradition passed down to my own daughter - shd will love to try making the Pulla bread too!
    Maybe we'll bring some to the table next time, Cathy - although I don't know what Linda would make of it! ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Soulmate - that's exactly how I feel about everyone in this series. That's why I wanted to do it so much.

      Delete
    2. I feel the same way--soulmates. We writers bare so much of ourselves to each other, in some ways it is more intimate than coffee face-to-face. Peace...

      Delete
  3. "like she had reached out into the sky and captured sunshine with a butterfly net" -this reminds me of a short interview Linda did on the Fictionaut website. I can't remember the exact words, but Linda was talking about 9/11, of going outside and looking at the sky and... it was beautiful. I believe she used the word "grace". And I wanted to steal that idea, that feeling and use it in a poem. Linda constantly inspires me. Even this letter is a beautiful piece of literature. And Linda, your "peace" has the same effect on me, and I really like the photo. Thanks to you and Cathy for sharing it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember that story, Mark. It was fantastic.

      Delete
    2. Mark, everything you write is stained with grace. Nothing would honor me more than for you to 'steal' anything from me.

      Henry did a nice job with that photo, catching me unawares. Peace...

      Delete
  4. Ah... thanks Cathy for the super introduction -- it brought tears to my eyes. Your goodness shines through your words, always. You know that, don't you? And thank you all for reading. It is an honor, a privilege, to 'know' Cathy. Yes, the details might fit a page, but it isn't facts that are important in relationship--it is feeling. So thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Visiting Linda's blog feels like stepping into an empty church, or standing alone in the deep woods. There is just such an overwhelming sense of peace. Everything she writes sounds like a poem. I love it when she writes about family, or about her writing progress, or shares bits of her work. Basically, I love it when she writes. And I remember that peach jam too, and your description of it is spot on.

    Linda, you look so nice in this photo. So cozy, and serious, and smart. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Stepping into an empty church, or standing alone in the deep woods..." you nailed it, Laurita.

      Delete
    2. Wow. An empty church. Must be the hubby wearing off ;^)

      I write 'peace' on my stuff because I mean it, I want it for others. But I also write it as a constant reminder for myself to remember--peace is what I should always strive for. Peace...

      Delete
  6. What a beautiful post. I loved the introduction, I nodded, I smiled, I got a little teary. Reading Linda's letter I was exhausted and exhilarated, and a little teary again.

    Thank you both. Very much indeed. You both of you sound like wonderful people to know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So do you ;^) I am coming over to visit your place. Peace...

      Delete
  7. This letter was like a cosy blanket that wraps you up in love, keeps you warm, makes you smile and reminds you to appreciate the gifts life sends you.

    Beautiful letter Linda loved reading it. ^_^

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kind of like the glitter you sprinkle!

      Delete
    2. Thank you Helen! I do love your glitter, little bits o'peace.

      Delete
  8. Very sweet, warm and welcoming. I definitely feel the need to look her up on her blogs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. and thanks for visiting, shannon. off to visit you! peace...

      Delete
  9. I love Linda. Her assurance of 'peace' is the most sincere I've ever received. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. XOXO to you Miss Carrie! You are taking the world by storm. Peace...

      Delete
  10. I love how Linda always sign off with "peace." It's something I've come to look forward to each time I see a comment from her.
    I'm also very hungry now...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. what can i say to the brilliant woman who makes death and time hilarious but peace? xoxo

      Delete
  11. You are one mighty fine writer. And a great cook, from the sounds and smells of your special recipes. Love your post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Linda's jam is to die for and so are her stories.

      Delete
    2. Susan, I like to cook and I like to write for the same reason--to do them well, it takes a lot of time. Peace!

      Delete
  12. My dear wild woman friend in the northernmost hinterlands--THANK YOU for all you do for your friends, virtual and cyber. We are blessed to know you. Peace...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Being the lucky recipient of one of Linda's peach jams,I loved your description of it - it is truly sunshine in a jar.

      I love your letters from friends series than you are doing - I think that there is nothing nicer than a heartfelt letter.

      Delete

How's it going, eh? It's SO good to hear from you. Tell me every darn thing...