Listening Post: Human Beans

Sister kiss

A sister kiss

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.

Hoppin' John

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.


7 Comments on “Listening Post: Human Beans”

  1. Nice memories, and a savory way to keep them. I enjoyed this post.

  2. Sue says:

    This brought tears to my eyes, Dale — beautiful. Thanks, and a Happy New Year!

  3. Bob Falesch says:

    …another eloquent allegory from the pen of Dale Hobson. I’m sure this resonates in long-time residents of the North Country who have lived the cycles of local feast and famine. I arrived here in the current cycle-phase of famine, the only North Country I know. So, I never dined with such a delicious local bean soup. I grew up with Midwestern ham in my split-pea soup. Perhaps a nice allegory for newcomers would be worthwhile. Then again, current generations of NorthCountry-ers as well may be wondering what the Donovan’s soup was like.


    PS: “NorthCountry-ers” 🙂 — Is there an accepted demonym for those who live in the North Country?

  4. Bob Falesch says:

    Judy, what a major website you have there!

    Your “My Surroundings” paragraph is pleasantly akin to a hearty cup of bean soup, I’d say.


  5. Doris McLallen says:

    Thank you, Dale. Had some lentil soup myself this week…. albeit out of a can. Your sharing inspires one to consider a pot of the REAL thing and a whole new neighborhood tradition here on ______ Street in Black River!

  6. Judy Gibson says:

    I regret not knowing your parents, Dale, but I did know Joan and George Donovan. You have written a lovely tribute to them all and to a way of life it is good to reflect on as we begin the new year. Thanks.


  7. Melanie Donovan says:

    The Donovans still make good luck soup to welcome the New Year, and memories of good old times with good old friends warm in our hearts as well. It’s wonderful to know that the Hobsons remember too, Dale. Happy New Year!

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