I’ve got this idea that if heaven and hell exist, it would only make sense that they would be customized. You know- each eternity designed to suit the individual. For example, when I die, I’ll know I’ve been bad if I end up in Best Buy.
On the other hand, if I eat all my broccoli and balance my checkbook to at least the nearest ten- okay, twenty- dollars, and I stay at my children’s band concerts to the very end even when they are done participating before the intermission? I’m pretty sure I’ll end up on Sissy’s front porch, having an egg sandwich with scrapple and coffee.
The reason I say this is that right now, I’m doing just that. Sissy, for those unlucky souls who may not be acquainted with her yet, is the gifted chef who ran the Dorset Inn restaurant for umpteen years before selling the whole kit and kaboodle and starting over with a tiny little take-out kitchen in Middletown Springs, Vermont. “Sissy’s Kitchen” isn’t centrally located, isn’t particularly fast, and definitely isn’t cheap. You can’t even eat there- well not inside anyway- because state regulation prohibits sit-down service at her location.
Doesn’t matter. There’s just something wonderful that speaks to me about Sissy’s. Maybe it’s the fact that she hangs old, well-loved wooden kitchen implements from baling twine on the walls. Maybe it’s that wonderful warm, not-quite-mustard yellow she has painted the interior or the small, tasteful array of locally-crafted woodware and ceramics that are casually offered for sale in the shop’s nooks and crannies. Maybe it’s the large, central table filled with an army of home-baked treats under glass, or the large, creaky-comfortable chairs outside where you can sit and open up your take-out (of your own volition, of course) taking maximum advantage of the spotty sunlight and the company of the long-eared, low-bellied dogs who lounge about like they own the place- which they clearly do.
This particular morning the longest-eared dog had curled himself (herself?) into a furry, croissant-shaped ball on the cushioned chair next to me, having settled deeply in for a late-morning nap long before my appearance on the scene. He breathes heavily through his nostrils and every once in a while heaves a heavy sigh of contentment.
Meanwhile the smell of something new and delicious baking in the kitchen slowly begins to waft in our direction- muffins? Raspberry, maybe? This morning the porch is in shade, but the back of my neck is hit directly by a patch of sun, poking through the tree branches. I, too, heavy a heavy sigh of contentment.
My belly is full of dark coffee and freshly home-baked cibatta and warm, orange-yolked eggs, not to mention the ridiculously delicious pork and cornmeal concoction Sissy informs me is called “scrapple.” I watch the dogs with amazement at their morning’s work and think: this, for them, is all there is. This moment, this cushion, this spot of sun. Ambition? Stress? Criticism? If they had shoulders I imagine the dogs might shrug. The experience of Sissy’s, I think to myself, is about more than Slow Food- it is for me also about the pleasures of slowing down life.
As I gaze at them, sipping from the bottom of my white paper cup, the Zen masters let out a soft, light snore.