Pistachio Pudding

In the hours before I left the US to return to Thailand, I completed some shopping for Ron and Kari.  Ron and Kari are missionary friends up in Chiang Mai, Texans who have lived in both Thailand and Kenya for their missionary work and who are accustomed to suffering without the comforts of home.  Before leaving, I asked them what I could bring back for them and the answer was Jell-O instant pudding mix.

pistachio pudding The market I stopped at had a wider selection of flavors with the house brand, so I loaded up on French Vanilla, Chocolate, Butterscotch, and other flavors.  Then I came across pistachio.  It wasn’t on their list but I decided to buy a couple of boxes for me, for memory’s sake.

Normally I’m against processed foods, particularly those with an ingredient list as disturbing as what you will find in a box of instant pudding mix.  Sugar is the first ingredient, followed by different types of starches, followed by a whole host of multisyllabic compounds that fall generally into the “sodium” category.  But I decided to get some because of the fond memories I have of my paternal grandmother making pistachio pudding when I was a child, spending time down at her mother’s home in the 1,000-person town of Cole Camp, Missouri.

We would spend time down in Cole Camp each summer, playing in the backyard and the park across the street, going on trips to the creek where we would wade in the water and spend a long time holding fishing poles but not catching any fish.  And somewhere in those memories is the memory of pistachio pudding, cold, creamy, and bright green with little reconstituted chunks of nuts, served after dinner.

Making a batch this week, the smell and taste and texture were all as I had remembered them, although the memories were more enjoyable than the actual eating of the pudding.  I guess over time our tastes change, even if the memories don’t.


Small Town Triple Homicide

Small Town Triple Homicide” scream the headlines, a momentary blip lost amidst the noise of 500 channels of infotainment, a blip likely erased by the next news cycle, eclipsed by another equally shocking story.  The blip takes on greater significance when you know the victims, though.

My paternal grandparents were born and raised in Cole Camp, Missouri, a town with a steady population of about 1,000 located some two hours southeast of Kansas City.  A small, rural town, Cole Camp had its moment of fame as the site of a small skirmish during the Civil War. 

Cole Camp was also where I would go visit my great-grandmothers when I was very young.  After they passed away, we would still go down and spend a week or so there every summer in one of their houses which my grandparents had kept. 

Great-grandma Tess’ house was the oldest house in town (picture about half way down this web page), the only house on a city block’s worth of property that would have been large enough for another half-dozen houses, except for one other house.  The other house belonged to Donnie and Sharon Luetjen, a couple about the age of my parents who had a son and a daughter, Terry a little older than me and Debbie about my age.

During my primary school years, during every visit my sister and I would spend hours playing with the Luetjen kids, especially Debbie.  We’d play at the nearby park, sit on the porch playing Clue and other board games, and go explore the tall grasses out behind the house.  One of our favorite games was a version of volleyball using an inflatable beachball and an old smokehouse for the net.

Debbie and I exchanged letters from time to time, drifting apart as my visits to Cole Camp became less frequent.  Eventually, I heard she graduated from school the same year as me and then not too much later had married.  Her older brother got married, too.

When Terry’s first born was just a month old, she was orphaned when her father was killed.  Debbie and Terry’s parents took custody of their granddaughter, raising her as their own.  They were good people, hard working and always looked out for my grandparents and their property, especially after my grandfather passed away in 1986 and my grandmother didn’t go down to Cole Camp nearly as often.

A few years ago, after my grandmother passed away, my family sold the entire property to Donnie and Sharon.  Donnie, a collector and local history buffs, had long expressed interest in it, talking about turning the badly aging house into a museum of local history.  As they had been so kind to my grandparents and so helpful over the years, selling the property to them felt like the right thing to do.

Over the years, I’ve heard about them on rare occasion, seeing Donnie once a few years ago on a day trip down to see the house. 

Yesterday my mother sent an email to me and my sister: my uncle had heard on the news about a triple homicide in Cole Camp.  Donnie and Sharon and their 15-year old granddaughter were reportedly stabbed to death.  Police believe it was a robbery (Donnie’s collection of antique Indian arrowheads and other items was well-known about town) gone bad, as all of the artifacts and Donnie’s collection of guns were gone.

So now Debbie is the last member of the family.  I don’t know how to get in touch with her, but would like her to know that my thoughts and prayers are with her.  It is so sad that her family, kind and thoughtful people who never hesitated to lend a helping hand, would meet such a violent and untimely end.

I know that all the leaves fall from the tree, a few when they are still young and green and most when their color has faded to shades of rust and sunlight and dirt.  But it seems like people who live their lives so generously deserve to die peacefully. 

May they rest in peace.