Making sauce

When making gravy, you being with a roux, a French word for flour and fat cooked together to thicken a sauce. Some people give up and buy gravy in a can or a jar, but other people are blessed to stand beside a master and watch him whisk the ingredients together with a confident hand. Some of us have been blessed to watch Ed Bauer make what he never called gravy, even when working with the Thanksgiving turkey. We have been blessed to stand at his side and learn to make sauce.

We start with the basic ingredients when we make a family, too. 65 years ago, Ed and Virginia embarked on the adventure of marriage. They were younger than most of their grandchildren are now. They began with a roux of hope for the future and faith in each other, a good way to start a marriage. Faith and hope hold people together; we need those binding ingredients to provide a consistent and secure base. From there we can extend ourselves to try new things, and expand our hearts to love more deeply, even when it is hard to keep doing it. Maybe especially then.

Here’s another thing about making sauce. Most of us don’t get gravy right the first time, even if we have carefully studied the recipe. It’s especially true if we aspire to excellence, as Ed did in the kitchen. You have to put in the time. Malcolm Gladwell, who popularized the idea of the 10,000 hour rule in his book “Outliers: the Story of Success,” wrote, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” This applies to more than cooking, of course. In our public work, our spiritual lives, in our relationships as parents, partners and friends, we have to put in the effort. To grow in understanding and in love, we have to keep doing it over and over again. We have to mature in our abilities. We have to practice.

The skill gained with that kind of practice can make us graceful and gracious, as Ed was. He appreciated the talents of others, and he was proud of his children and grandchildren and the things they did well – maybe especially his grandchildren, many of whom inherited his love of music. He generously shared his cooking knowledge. The nicest compliment Ed ever paid me was to say he felt comfortable working in my kitchen, and he said that despite my persistent lack of one very important pantry item – instant flour. A secret of making sauce, and making a life, is not being stopped by our disappointments and our losses. We acknowledge them, but we keep going. There is a meal to keep cooking, a life to continue living.

For those of us who knew and loved Virginia, it was hard to imagine who he would be without her. What a tremendous gift it was that he opened his heart and his life to Judi and her family.

Here’s a secret I learned watching Ed make the sauce one Thanksgiving at my house. After he tasted it, he said, “It needs a little something sweet.” His grandchildren argue that I remember this wrong, but I know what he chose after a search of the refrigerator. The gravy – I mean the sauce, of course – the sauce that year included a little bit of blueberry jam. This is an important life lesson: Add some sweetness.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

8 Love never ends. 

Love is sweet, but love is also enduring. Judi suggested our reading from 1 Corinthians, which we often hear at weddings because it unpacks what love is, even though it wasn’t written with couples in mind. The apostle Paul wrote to a new church community, trying to help them learn how to live and work together despite their differences. Their aim shouldn’t be to win an argument but to grow together in faith, in hope, and in love.

In cooking and in life, Ed served with love, standing at the end of the buffet line, getting up early to make breakfast, to brew coffee, making sure everyone else had what they needed before he took his seat at the table. At the end of his life he had to learn to receive the care he had been so gracious about giving. He received the blessing of a wife and children who had learned about caring from him.

When we gather to remember and celebrate the life of a person who has lived as long as Ed did, it may be tempting to minimize our feelings of loss, yet the death of a beloved husband, father and grandfather marks a change in our identities, our place in the scheme of things.

In her poem, “In Blackwater Woods,” Mary Oliver wrote:

To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

This is wisdom that we all hope not to practice enough to be expert at it. We simply have to do the best we can to let go. When the person we loved has suffered a decline, we may do it with a mixture of sadness and relief. We trust in the words of Jesus Christ, who told us not to let our hearts be troubled, who promised a place would be waiting for us. We let Ed – Dad, Papa -go trusting that the God he loved has welcomed him into the household of heaven, at the table where all will gather.

I just hope they have a restaurant stove – and some instant flour.

We make a life the way we make a sauce. We start with a roux, with the things that bind us together. We hand the recipe down from one generation to the next, with changes made to suit the circumstances. We find ourselves in unfamiliar spaces and do the best we can with what is on hand. We remember to sweeten things with laughter, or apologies, or a little of both. And however the sauce turns out, however life turns out, the greatest of these is love.