Guest blog post by Jennifer Hotes
Author of “Four Rubbings”
Stopping by “It Happened at Purity” is akin to walking around Fort Bragg with Kate, perhaps on the way to pick up groceries for dinner. As we wander the streets with her, we come to understand the soul of this special place and its residents.
Though seemingly tough and nonplussed on the outside, the people of Fort Bragg are tender, sentimental, proud, modest beyond belief and honest, oh God they are honest. If Fort Bragg were a presidential candidate, it’d have my vote.
There is a special woman behind those stories, someone who watches and cares for this community, then takes her observations and coaxes the details into stories—ones that make us laugh, or bawl to the point of ruining our computer keyboards and most powerfully, make us feel like residents of Fort Bragg, too. Like the groceries at Purity—cans, loaves, and bottles—they are merely ingredients until a cook lovingly crafts them into a meal. Kate is that chef.
For decades, Kate has been feeding me. My first memory is of a bowl of split‐pea soup. It was summer in Sherman Oaks, California and we were in the midst of a record‐breaking drought. Residents were instructed to flush toilets sparingly and the grass outside was yellow and brittle.
I lived most of the year with my mom in Washington State. Even though Sherman Oaks was hot and dry, I was delighted to be visiting Kate and my dad. But I was not happy to eat that bowl of thick green soup sitting in front of me on the kitchen table. I was six at the time and green food wasn’t my thing. The soup smelled like sweaty feet and looked lumpy and odd. The water bureau would’ve certainly approved of me flushing that down the toilet.
There were countless visits after that, all tethered to Kate’s amazing cooking. At Christmas time in Fresno, she made homemade lefse filled with a pat of butter, steamed potatoes and fresh halibut. Oh golly, it was delicious the first night, but even better the next day. Homemade pastas, ice creams, salads—there was always something decadent and savory at the table. It was understood that if Kate cooked, then my dad, brother and I cleaned up. I was never happier to do dishes than after enjoying one of her meals.
Every visit I’ve made to Fort Bragg is consistent in one detail—Kate makes me feel like the only person in the world. After driving the twisty Willits road, I am shepherded into the kitchen with hugs and conversation, handed a cookie and told to sit and rest while she finishes dinner. No matter how delicious the meal, she never takes credit for the end result. Yes, she’ll concede that it was a good recipe, but she’ll not admit that she has exceptional skill in the kitchen.
If I watch Kate like she watches Fort Bragg, I notice she savors having company around the table. She delights in watching her guests enjoy her food and though it makes the tips of her ears blush red, she relishes in compliments.
Her way of caring for people through food made its way into my first book, “Four Rubbings.” Don’t tell my lawyers, but Kate is the person behind Grace, the cemetery caretaker who nurtures her loved ones with food and stories. Grace bakes brownies and cookies when people feel low. She cooks meals that fill the air with heavenly scents and cause people to linger over conversation as they try to make room for seconds.
Kate is Grace, stronger than she knows, squeamish about compliments, nurturing, and profoundly wise. She is the reason we all gather around the table. She is the thing we are hungry for—the meals are simply a bonus.
There is one recipe in “Four Rubbings” that readers constantly ask for—Pioneer Cranberry Pie, a recipe clipped from The Fresno Bee by her mom Donna. Kate made it a few years ago for my daughter Ellie and me. It is as good as it sounds.
She’ll never tell you, but I will. There is a special person behind “It Happened at Purity.” I am honored to know her and call her Mom. The character she inspired—Grace—will be in my second book. Look for it in Spring 2015.
Visit Jennifer’s website: www.jenniferlhotes.com