Bovina Center, NY was, and remains to this day, a tiny rural town in the Catskill Mountains, a “dry” town where you could not purchase alcohol beverages, a place where quilting never died, and where the singular church, a Presbyterian Church, was the heart of the community. In 1973, I was a city girl and single mother, with one son, who planned to never marry again. Passing years would show me that life had other plans though and after a three-year courtship, I married Don, a country boy, a farmer with a small dairy herd and we began to forge our 23- year partnership.
Four years later, in 1977, Polly was born and then Susan arrived in 1979. One evening in 1980, my son Chip was at basketball practice in the neighboring town of Delhi, and I needed to pick him up. The night was chilly, the ground slippery with a thin layer of ice, and I carefully traversed the slope down to the barn, where I would tell Don I was leaving to pick Chip up. Halfway down the slope I slipped, fell, and heard my ankle snap as I landed on my bottom. I sat stunned for a few minutes, then slowly crab-crawled to the milk house door, somehow got inside, and managed to get Don’s attention despite the strident noise of the compressor that ran the milking machines.
Don quickly finished milking, we packed the girls in the car, and left for the small emergency room in Delhi. Several hours later we returned home and I hobbled, with assistance, up to the house with my new crutches and a cast on my right leg, which would be my 10-week winter companion that year.
I soon learned what an impediment crutches and a cast were when caring for a 1 and 3-year-old in our family of five. Every task I needed to do slowed to a virtual turtle pace and I suddenly realized a very, very long winter lay ahead.
When the phone rang the next afternoon, I awkwardly thumped my way over to it and said, “Hello.” A friend told me she was sorry to hear about my broken ankle, then told me our church had organized an ongoing schedule to bring daily meals to our home. I could not take this in, at first, for I’d grown up in a small Long Island community where our family had a few neighborhood friendships, attended the Catholic Church and came home right afterward, and that was the extent of our community ties. Now the Bovina church community was reaching out to us in an unimaginable way, preparing food not only for their own busy families, but for ours as well.
Each day for weeks, a full and hearty main course arrived at my front door in the hands of a kind neighbor, friend, or church couple, accompanied by a pie, a cake, or cookies. After the first few days I became moved to tears, at times, with the most humble gratitude I’d ever experienced. I remember clearly the day when the mom of a large, financially struggling family arrived with a huge pot of spaghetti. Her blue eyes twinkled as she smiled and said, “Well, it’s not much, but it’s sustenance.”
Sustenance? Indeed. It was sustenance not only for our bodies but gave rich sustenance to our souls.
Today, in my seventh decade of life, I smile when I remember the multiple opportunities I’ve had to pass on that kindness to others. Most often, though, when I recall that winter, the same deep gratitude I felt then envelopes me like a prayer shawl in the present. I realize that my fall on the slippery slope—when people from all over my community arrived with food, or offers to care for my daughters, or to help with laundry or housework—transformed into the deepest sense of community I’d ever experienced, either before or since, in my lifetime.