Last night we finished off the leftovers from our annual New Year’s Day lucky bean soup. Many foods from many traditions attach themselves to various holidays, for better or worse. In the worse category, you might find fruitcake, candy corn, alarmingly yellow marshmallow chicks, shocking pink sugar cookies and ribbon candy. I had a fright only today, unfoiling a kiss-shaped object to find nothing brown within—red and white stripes! Sister kisses.
But almost every year since my childhood has started with a beany soup. Sometimes a traditional southern Hoppin’ John, sometimes lentil or pea. This year it was white beans with vegetables, kale and Spanish chorizo. In my home, this tradition started with the Donovans, George and Joan, my parents’ fast friends. Each New Year’s Day was an open house at the Donovans, with bean soup given pride of place on the potluck table. The gatherings were memorable for companionship, conversation, fun and food.
They met in the late ‘50s, when my father’s business machine office rented space across the hall from George’s insurance office. The Seaway boom was briefly on, and it was a different North Country. As parents with young families, they threw themselves into the social life of post-war small-town America, joining the Jaycees and Masonic organizations, the PTA, serving as church deacons and Sunday school teachers, scout leaders and Power Squadron members. It is a network that has almost vanished today, but formed a set of connections all four of them maintained throughout their lives.
George and Joan and Doris and Dave are all gone now, along with much of that one-time connective tissue that held the village together. It would be easy to forget the world was ever so, except for the annual soup. Warm, simple, substantial—they’re all still in there, enriching the stock.