Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The show was broadcast from Anoka, Mr. Keillor’s hometown, and it was all quite lovely, with the school band and former teachers, and students who have made something remarkable of their lives. Got me thinkin’ about where I grew up, a small town in Wisconsin, where there was a feed mill and a corner store, a park and a cemetery and three churches — one Catholic and two Lutheran. A funeral home and a small café, a bank and post office and grocery store and the three schools I attended while growing up. There was a train running through, and a creek, too, and everyone knew everyone in my small town.
I go back there, now and then. Much has changed. The old middle school is gone, and so is the Catholic church. There’s another church out past town, a free church, and the general store is gone, and the funeral home is no longer a funeral home. Feels a bit different with more houses and neighborhoods, even. With many of my teachers and the people with whom I grew up no longer there. Last time I visited, I walked past the house I grew up in, and could see through the front window wood paneling on walls that were once white, and the maple tree is gone in front and there’s a “For Sale” sign out on the lawn. But the porch swing is there, and it still creaks, and if you’re asking me how I know, well, I sat on that swing and closed my eyes and remembered.
They say you can’t go home again, and that may be true in ways, but there are places and things in the world that bring home to me, familiar in ways the heart recognizes. I’ll always feel right at home on the bank of a creek, and walking over bridges, sitting on bleachers of old weathered wood, and swinging on a swing. Feel at home asking my neighbor for a cup of sugar, walking roads out past cornfields and old barns and up into the woods, diving off old docks into lakes, and fishing for walleye. Feel at home breathing in country air, wood smoke, the scent of fresh-cut hay.
There are days I wish I’d never left, and days I’m glad I did. But you know, truth be told, I carry it in me, wherever I go, the place where I became who I am. Small town girl, yes, always and ever.
Here’s a fine and hearty pair of dishes for a blustery October evening. Add some gingerbread for dessert, with freshly whipped cream, and you’re good for an evening bonfire or a twilit walk through falling leaves.
Pork Chops ‘n Apples
2 T butter
6 pork chops
4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Brown pork chops on both sides. Place apple slices in greased baking dish. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples, and add pork chops. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 1½ hours, serves 6.
Sweet Potato Apple Casserole
4 medium sweet potatoes
3 medium tart apples
2 T flour
2 T brown sugar
2 T butter
½ cup apple juice
4 strips bacon, cut in half.
Peel sweet potatoes and cut into ¼ inch slices. Peel, core and slice apples. Combine flour, sugar and lightly dredge the sweet potatoes and apples. Butter casserole dish and alternately layer apples and sweet potatoes. Dot with butter and add apple juice. Arrange bacon over the top. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until tender. Uncover and bake 5-10 minutes until bacon is crisp. Serves 4-5.