This week, I said good-bye … or, as I prefer to say, see you later … to a very dear friend. Lou was 76 years old, sweet to children of all ages, a kind-hearted practical joker, and faithful and courageous to his last days with us. About 14 years ago, we met Lou and his wife, Dianne, when we joined their congregation and they quickly went from “those sweet, kind people at church”, to beloved neighbors, to an extension of our family . In fact, our boys consider them honorary grandparents.
When Dianne called and told me that Lou had gone to his eternal home, memories from the last 14 years started running through my brain and good tears started running down my cheeks. One memory in particular stood out …
In 2008, we took a vacation to Door County, Wisconsin. Lou was curious if we were going fishing. He loved fishing. He loved fish stories. He wanted to hear all about it when we returned.
We did take our poles and we “drowned a few worms”, as they say. But we didn’t have much luck. There were plenty of stories to tell though … fish boils, lighthouses, the National Mustard Museum, cheese curds and the McVey-family-vacation-requirement, a baseball game (Miller Park √).
Even then, I couldn’t resist a roadside market or winery. And, just ask my guys, there are a LOT of them in Door County. As many of you know, this area is famous for cherries. I’m not a big fan of cherries but the sight of jars and jars of beautiful, clear, berry-pink colored jelly in sweet little canning jars was too much to resist. Since my husband and boys are fans of cherries, we made our purchase and we thought Lou and Dianne might enjoy one too. They enjoyed our stories and the jelly.
A few months later, they stopped by one evening and handed us the jar, sans jelly, filled with black walnuts. In the fall, they would pick them up off the ground and Lou would make it his winter project to remove the green hull, dry the hard brown shell, crack open the shell, and remove the nut meats.
NOTE: I just came across a website LOADED with black walnut recipes
and information and pictures (including the one above):
Hammons Products Company.
I had seen these stinky nuts under trees and driven over those hard road hazards for many years but never knew anything about them. I just told you the first thing you have to know about black walnuts: they stink! Well, they stink when they are still in the green hull, and they will stain skin, fabric and surfaces so WEAR GLOVES during the gathering and hulling stages and cover your work area.
The second thing I learned is black walnuts have an acquired taste. They are stronger in flavor than traditional English walnuts and have a smoky edge and smell a little like black licorice. I am still trying to find that perfect recipe that makes me crave these gems … maybe one of those from Hammons will take me from “appreciation” to “infatuation” (future blogging potential)!
Over the years, that jar has traveled back and forth between our houses filled with simple gifts. One year at Christmas, I filled it with peppernuts. One Easter, it came back filled with green and pink mint meltaways (those little mint candies that look like chocolate chips) because Lou and Dianne remembered me telling that the boys’ grandma had always put a bag of those in their Easter baskets. After randomly meeting outside our local grocery store and browsing the clearance table of perennials, I bought the plant they denied themselves and dropped it off at their house with the jar filled with Miracle Grow. Discussions about making dandelion chains as kids resulted in the delivery of this little ballroom dancer to my door. She’s made from a flower and a bud of one of their outdoor perennials (I’m ashamed to admit I’ve forgotten the name of the flower).The picture does not begin to do her justice.
Back and forth … treats and candy … flowers and Bible verses … holidays and every days … simple gifts filled this jar. But the contents of the jar were far outweighed by the friendship between the joint owners.
So, Lou, I thank you for all the hours you spent on those black walnuts and for sharing them with me. I hope you spend your days watching the hummingbirds, planting trees, handing out Starburst candy, singing “Jesus Loves Me”, and telling all who will listen about “the one that got away”. Better yet … I hope you CATCH all those that got away!
And don’t worry … the jar will continue its travels back and forth from our house to yours.
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