Ah, Fall. It’s my favorite time of year! Especially here in the country. The leaves are changing beautiful colors, the breeze is crisp and cool, and everyone has their annual chicken stew.
The first time I was ever invited to a Chicken Stew I had never even heard of such a thing. We definitely didn’t have anything like it in California! I wondered, how can you have a chicken stew? Chicken stew is something you eat, not something you have. But then it was explained to me, a Chicken Stew is a gathering, usually at a person’s house or church, where they serve… can you guess it?… chicken stew!
Oh, I see! Kinda like in California we say we are gonna have a Barbeque when we’ll be cooking on the grill for a gathering. Out here that’s called a cookout. Here “barbeque” is a meal of cooked, shredded pork. So,I guess it’s kinda the same concept as a “chicken stew”.
Anyways, my midwife/neighbor Amy invited us to come to an annual neighborhood chicken stew in the field across from her house. Since I don’t really know any of my neighbors yet, except for her, I gratefully accepted the invitation.
Hubby had to work that night, so me and the kids went to the party. It was already dark outside when we piled into the van and drove the lonely single lane dirt road along the corn fields to the place where the chicken stew was to be.
We came to a huge field where tons of cars were parked, so I guessed that was the place. It was so dark, we couldn’t see anything! I thought everyone would be partying there in the field, but nobody was in sight. There was a path of candles in bags lighting the way through the forest, so I bundled the kids up, we all held hands, and slowly walked down the lit trail seeing nothing but the step in front of us.
After a little walk we could hear people ahead. We could see more flickering lights through the trees. Over a little creek, and under a lit handcrafted arbor of sticks, we came to the clearing where everyone was gathered. There were three big bonfires going, and people all around. I immediately felt out of place. I tried to find Amy among the dark figures. I heard her laughter, and found her talking to another lady by the main fire.
When she saw me, she turned and gave me a hug. She showed me to the table to set the box of Saltines that I’d brought for the meal, then she led me around and introduced me to everyone she knew. It was neat meeting everyone, though I’m not sure I’d recognize them in the daylight! We heard the sound of children playing, and saw some girls and boys playing on a swing hanging from a long tree branch, lit up with a spot light. Jada and Ty ran off to join them.
I stood by the fire, talking with Amy and her daughter-in-law who also lives down the road from me. I did my best to keep my eye on the kids from afar. Everyone wanted to hold Xia, so she got passed around quite a bit. I stayed right with her though.
Amy was in the middle of telling us something when I realized that I couldn’t see Titus any more. I excused myself from the group and walked over to the big tree where the other kids were playing. He was nowhere to be seen. I peered into the surrounding darkness and began calling his name.
Now, I’m a pretty calm person. I generally don’t overreact or lose my cool very easily. But I had to really focus on fighting back the fear that was creeping into my voice. I called some more. A few children congregated around me and called his name too.
Then one of the boys came up to me and said, “A little boy went that way (pointing into the blackness of the woods) and he hasn’t come back yet.” I said, “I’m looking for a little boy (using my hand to show his height). Did you see him?” He replied, “Yes, that was him. He went into the woods and he hasn’t come back out.”
My mind began to race. What is in the trees just beyond the light? Is there a lake? Is there a well or deep hole that he could have fallen into? I envisioned a whole search party combing the woods for my little boy. No. I had to stay calm.
I walked further into the trees, calling Titus’ name. I couldn’t hear anything over the crunching of the leaves under our feet. I said to the kids, “Lets just be still for a minute and listen.”
And then, I saw him. A little figure toddling toward me, his figure lit by the bonfires. He had been with the group the whole time. Relief filled my body and I thanked the Lord. I went to him and gave him a big hug. Amy came up to me and said, “I saw him over here petting the dog. I thought if he didn’t come to you in another minute I’d bring him to you.”
I didn’t leave his side for the rest of the night!
We stood around the fires, waiting for the stew to finish cooking. It was being cooked in a huge cast iron pot sitting on hot coals. A woman stirred it with a long stick. Amy got a big spoon and dipped it into the pot for a taste test. It was missing something… more Texas Pete. A few more minutes and it was ready to eat. They called everyone together to bless the food.
Then we all lined up with our bowls and waited our turn by the fire. A few people saw me holding Xia in one hand, a bowl in another, and Titus by my side, and offered to help me. That was sweet. I thanked them, but said I think I’m okay.
We ate, and enjoyed the night. It was a beautiful atmosphere. Friendly people gathered together, their faces aglow. Laughing children making up their own games to play together. Little dogs sniffing around for fallen crumbs. The smell of hot chicken stew in the air.
I sat back and watched everyone. It was nice to meet the people who are living around me. Though I can’t see any of their houses from my own home, they are my neighbors, and it was fun to be among them.
Before I left, one of the ladies came up to me and gave me her number. She offered to watch my kids for me any weekend that I might want a date out with my husband. Though I’d never think of leaving my children with somebody I didn’t know, I thanked her for her kindhearted offer. Maybe I will call her sometime and let our kids play together again.
What a wonderful way to spend a chilly Autumn night!
Wanna make your own Southern Style Chicken Stew? Here’s how it’s made.