A few months ago, when I first contemplated the idea of a “Year of No Sugar,” images of cravings, temptation and deprivation came to mind. My personal mental picture involved me in an old-west-style show-down with one of those square Ritter chocolate bars: “Let’s go, chocolate,” I’d sneer, perhaps from under a sombrero, “You and me. Mano a mano.” You know, if chocolate had hands.
But in truth the hardest moments aren’t solitary, quite the opposite. In fact, if I could just home school the kids and avoid all restaurants and social events for the year- in other words if we could just move to an new address under a convenient rock- the project would seem to be a comparative snap. Turns out, at least for me, the social isolation of being on a different wavelength from the rest of the world around you can be one of the most difficult parts of all.
For example. Yesterday we attended the biggest local event I’ve seen in my fourteen years in Pawlet: a fundraiser to benefit the owners of Dutchie’s general store in West Pawlet. Dutchie’s was a local fixture and a historic building which burned to the ground in the middle of the night two weeks ago. The event was so sudden, so shocking, so deeply upsetting to the community, that within hours plans were being fomented on Facebook for what would blossom into a huge community expression of support and love: the final event featured a pig roast and chicken barbecue, a silent auction of over a hundred items, a bake sale of gargantuan proportions, live music by a favorite local honky-tonk band, a swing set raffle, tractor rides and face painting. Phew! We showed up at five after two in the afternoon- as the event was scheduled to begin at two- to find hundreds and hundreds of people already in line for all of the above. But most of all they were in line for the food.
Now you’d think by now I’d have figured this food thing out, but maybe I’m just dense. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me that we wouldn’t be able to eat the majority of food on the menu for this event until we were already there. Meat and pasta salad? Fine, right? But baked beans, chicken with barbecue sauce, coleslaw… sugar was certainly in all of them. And you can’t very well go to an event like this, with hundreds in line behind you waiting their turn, and start asking volunteers nit-picky questions about the pasta salad. You just can’t.
Fortunately, we had been assuming we’d eat there later in the afternoon as an early dinner, and we had eaten lunch, so we weren’t starving. Instead, we focused on everything else: we bought event t-shirts, we bid on items at the silent auction, the kids swung (swang?) on the raffle swing set and got their faces painted. Practically everyone in town made an appearance that afternoon, and in a town of just over 1,000 people that amounts to a great big party where you know virtually all of the guests. Initial reports indicate that at the end of the day over $27,000 was raised to help Dutchie’s owners Will and Eric, who wandered around the event looking honestly dazed by such an outpouring of support.
Then friends of my two girls started appearing licking soft-serve ice creams. Of course this was hard. Reeeeeeally hard. You know how parents used to say “This hurts me more than it hurts you?” As a kid you never believe it, but, as a parent you learn the true meaning of this. I would’ve given anything to hand them each a dollar and tell them to, of course, go get an ice cream. But. What kind of message would that’ve sent? How many more special events were to come this summer at which “special exemptions” would be begged? How many more times would we give in, and at what point would our project cease to have any real meaning?
So the afternoon progressed and we watched virtually the entirely of our town file through the line that snaked through the firehouse parking lot and all the way down to the road. I heard at it’s peak the wait was over an hour. But we never did join the line. We chatted with our neighbors. We checked our bids at the auction. We avoided the bake sale table. We swung.
I came home with an empty feeling in me that only partly had to do with the fact that it was getting to be dinner time. Everyone in the community had come together to help our neighbors Will and Eric, and we were a part of that, certainly. But we all know food is symbolic, food is important. When people break bread together it means something. At least for now, our family is, in some small way, existing apart.