Let's pause right there. We have travelled with 37 high school juniors and 5 chaperones. We left at 10:30 p.m. Monday on the overnight train from our home town and arrived in D.C. the next morning. We got back to the hotel after 10 p.m. Tuesday night. Today we have toured and done amazing things (more about that in a minute) and now we are on the overnight train back home. This priest is tired and her dogs are barkin' but it's been worth it 100%.
Now back to what has made this day monumental.
We spent the bulk of our day in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. I couldn't wait to see Julia Child's kitchen again. She had my kind of kitchen. Her kitchen wasn't designed for beauty or style. It was functional and personal.
Nothing was stylized or matching; nothing present simply for aesthetics or fashion. Hers was a kitchen made for cooking according to her style and need. She wasn't making a statement with this kitchen. She was working and expressing her passion.
As we were walking through the exhibit FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000, I heard familiar voices. My back was to the source when my mind caught up with my ear. With wide eyes I hit my husband and mouthed "That's Jane and Michael Stern from the Splendid Table!!!!".
You should know that I have a "Public Rado Nerd" sweatshirt and I listen to, PRI, APR, and NPR podcasts nearly every day.
At my husband's (D's) urging, I interrupted their private tour and introduced myself. I told them about buying their most recent copy of RoadFood and my sabbatical and grant. I told them we would use their book as we travel next summer.
Their voices are among the ones that inspire me every week as I tune in to learn about food and culture. That encounter would have been enough to make the day memorable.
But, there was more to come.
As I was describing my Cooking Priest project, the two women who work for
The Smothsonian who were with the Sterns started looking at one another with wide eyes and reaching for their cards. They then introduced themselves as Susan Evans and Paula Johnson, Program Director for the Smithsonian American Food History Project and the Curator of the Division of Work Industry, respectively. Next summer's exhibit will be around how food helps create community; something that certainly resonates with my project. Since we'll be back next summer with our kids, this was great news!
As if that weren't enough, the day ended with us meeting a legend and super hero. D worked hard planning this trip and, thanks to his tenacity and a phone call or two made by a friend, we managed to gain an audience with Congressman John Lewis.
He was everything we could have hoped for and more. He told of growing up a sharecropper's son in Alabama, meeting Dr. King for the first time, protesting, being arrested, leading the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and subsequent beating on the bridge. He spoke of Comic-Con and speaking to school groups.
The two things brought tears to my eyes. First, he said he hears people say "Nothing has changed" and he wants to tell them just how much has changed. Second, he spoke of the importance of never losing hope, never giving up, and never growing bitter. He said that one of the times he was beaten, the police asked if he and the others wanted to press charges. He said they didn't because keeping love at the center of all they did was of utmost importance. He then shared that many years later, one of the former KKK members who had beaten him that particular night came to his office in Washington. The man had his grandson with him. He said he had tracked him down so that he could say he was sorry and to ask the Congressman's forgiveness. Congressman Lewis said they all cried during the visit and he met with him several more times.
That's a lot to happen in a day for this cooking priest. For as tired as I am from our trip, my heart is burning with renewed energy; energy to be in the kitchen, to cook with others and hear about their passion and joy in the kitchen, and for using those relationships to work together for justice and a changed world.