Finding comfort in times of fear and grief

"When the outside is bleak, apple butter works to boost my spirit. Apple butter on toast seems an unusual comfort food, but tastes differ. For others it might be eggs and bacon, and for others it might be a pancake stack."

"When the outside is bleak, apple butter works to boost my spirit," Mychal Wilmes says. (Pixabay photo)

It could be best described as an apple butter morning.

The sky spit sprinkles, the sun remained hidden behind clouds, and the temperature was stuck in the 30s. In former times, a long bad weather spell in May caused corn seed to rot in the ground.

When the outside is bleak, apple butter works to boost my spirit. Apple butter on toast seems an unusual comfort food, but tastes differ. For others it might be eggs and bacon, and for others it might be a pancake stack.

My mother, who produced jellies from elderberries, corn cobs, and other natural treasures, did not in my memory make apple butter. I was unaware of its ability to comfort until meeting a white-haired grandmother whose family milked Guernsey cows on a neighboring place.

Grandma stayed home while the rest of the family attended an out-of-state wedding. I agreed to milking and chores in their absence. It seemed a daunting task for a teenager. The family had only recently built a milking parlor and barn with slatted floors, numerous fans and other features.


To read more of Mychal Wilmes' Farm Boy Memories, click here.

Although detailed instructions were given and memorized, I feared that a mistake would cause disaster. It was grandma’s responsibility to prevent panic and provide reassurance. She immediately understood that I — a high school student who never carried the weight of great responsibility — was nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof.

Breakfast that followed chores brought calm with its apple butter and toast. The ingredients — apples, sugar, cinnamon, spices and all other things nice — were matched by her sweet temperament. The impeccably kept house, filled with a lifetime of memories, was also home to two Basenji dogs. They were an African breed kept for hunting, and unique because of their tightly twisted tails and inability to bark.

They also were extremely fast and reckless chasers of the few vehicles that passed by on the township road. The school bus was a regular passerby, and for that reason the Basenjis were not allowed out of the house when the bus made its rounds.

Accidents happen, and when the pair escaped the house, one of the Basenjis was killed. Grandma felt terrible about it and no words from her visitor was sufficient comfort. It was not long after my job was done that word came Grandma had suffered a major stroke that she could not survive.

Death was a stranger before I visited her in the hospital. It is impossible to comprehend it in youth when it is certain that we will never grow old . I thought it strange when my parents turned the newspaper first to the obituary page to see if old friends had passed.

In this age , I find myself doing the same thing. It hit hard when a childhood friend with whom I played ball died. The memories reintroduced the smell of fresh-cut outfield grass, games won and lost, and laughter.

The sun at long last has broken through the clouds. A stretch of warm and dry weather will bring tractors and planters to the fields; a south wind will carry the dust away.


The tulips are already in full bloom, and the robins and sparrows have finished building their nests. Onion sets, radishes, potatoes and lettuce will be planted soon . It is reassuring to remember that in the New Testament it is written that every single feather on a sparrow is counted and cared for by the creator.

Hence there is no reason to be nervous neither about the weather nor anything else. Still, in down and stressful times, apple butter and toast gets the day off to a better start.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor Forum Communications ownership. Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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