Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The power of tripe in the conversion process

So, yesterday I promised to tell you all about how as a child I helped my family convert the Mexicans, and I'm nothing if not a woman of my word, so here it is.

As I mentioned, in many of the small towns across the upper Midwest there is a tradition of making use of what we call "The Migrants" to pick our corn and peas and soybeans and also to put them into cans and those awesome frozen boxes and bags and then ship them across the country to the sad people who can't just go out into their backyard for corn on the cob like civilized folk.

Anyway, for many manies of years, the Migrant people were truly Migrants, in that they came into town mid-summer (sometimes a little earlier if they were going to help with pea pack) and stayed until October at the latest, so all we saw of them was if we went to play on the swings at Green Giant park, or if their kids showed up for the first month of school and talked to no one and sometimes weren't even in class because they were in ESL and then they disappeared again to go pick fruit in California and Texas or to go back to Mexico for the fall, winter and spring.

On the factory property out on the edge of town they had a bunch of trailers that they rented out to the workers, and a picnic area and some other stuff, and all of this was basically off-limits to us town folk. Well, during this time, as I may have mentioned, my mom was the rector of three tiny congregations spread about forty miles in every direction, each of which had about 10 to 20 people attending every Sunday, most over the age of 50. So, she had the idea to get these folks involved in actually reaching out to others, rather than just showing up on a Sunday, and started the Hispanic Migrant Services, which involved two church services spanning the shift change on Sunday afternoons, with a free lunch in between.

The first few years we got all these old Episcopalian ladies and gentlemen together in the ancient church basement and made hundreds of bologna sandwiches, assembly-line style and then delivered them, with potato chips, cookies and lemonade, to the park where we handed them out and then stood in the back of the outdoor church while a Spanish-speaking priest from the Cities led a short church service.

Little by little more people started to show up, and as the Migrant people slowly became Resident people, there were more brown folk helping with the sandwich making and reading the lessons, and we even got a Spanish-language hymnal and I played our Casio in the back with one hand, because man their songs are too fast to try to keep up with both hands.

Anyway, as they got more involved in their own services, the Hispanic folk got interested in maybe having something besides bologna and turkey and cake, and they had the idea to cook ethnic dishes in the kitchen of my parents' house, which was only a few blocks from the factory*. First out of the gate: Menudo. No, not the band, the soup. This is a spicy red soup made from tripe. Go ahead and click on that link. Can you tell what that is? Yeah, it's intestines. Did you know that your intestines are what turn your food into poop? That's what it smells like when they clean a massive pile of tripe in your kitchen and then boil it in giant pots for hours. And that's what it will smell like in your kitchen for days afterward, no matter what your mom says, it still smells like it and it's gross, and no the soup doesn't taste any better, it tastes spicy and slimy and still reminds you of the poop smell in your kitchen.

But, it turns out it works pretty well to bring all the heathens** in to church, and they'll even want to get their babies baptized and themselves married and practice Spanish with you and maybe even make some dishes that don't involve offal.

So, that is the story about how we used tripe to make good Episcopalians out of a gaggle of papists. If only it were always that easy.

* Yeah, enviable real-estate. It smelled like rotting corn all summer, and I loved it.
** A.k.a., Catholics


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