Anyone who’s done the two-, or three-, or four-job shuffle in Cook County knows this isn’t exactly the land of milk and honey. Career prospects are few. Prices are high. It’s easy to feel stretched thin when going through the many hurdles of making ends meet.
Granted, throughout history, Cook County has always been where dreams and hard work collide. Back in the day, when hopes of striking it rich by mining or farming the land didn’t pan out, the people stayed anyway. In fits and starts, an economy that still centers on logging, fishing and tourism was established. It’s not easy or glamorous work, but it’s there if you want or need it, often in the form of part-time or seasonal jobs. Perhaps Cook County is a glorious place to retire, but it can be one exhausting place to eke out a living.
We spend a lot of time worrying that there won’t be enough to go around. Just like the ants in the fable “The Ants and the Grasshopper,” we spend the summer months, when cash flow is usually high, squirreling away funds to get us through the lean winter months. Scribbling calculations on a Post-It note to figure out income as opposed to bills is a monthly, if not weekly, ritual.
Yet during the “full steam ahead” mentality that dominates so much of our summer, I’m always surprised that we aren’t constantly the ants of the old fable. Somehow, through it all, we manage to take turns at being grasshoppers, singing and playing our way through these most beautiful of days. Sometimes we get full grasshopper days, sometimes just grasshopper moments.
We sneak in paddles down the lake. The freezer fills with plump blueberries. We practice our marshmallow roasting techniques over campfires. Photos document fishing success.
It reminds me of the words food writer Diana Henry said in the introduction to her newest cookbook entitled Plenty. “When people bemoaned how little we had, all I could think was how very much we had,” she wrote.
For all our grousing about our pitifully short growing season, I’m already wracking my brain for creative uses for my little garden’s bounty of broccoli and zucchini. We act as though there’s no time for fun, but sunburned arms and faces prove otherwise. Although gatherings with friends are few and far between -- and always preceded by worries about food prices, gas prices and how to juggle other obligations -- somehow the gatherings always happen. And when they do, the kitchen counters soon buckle under the mountain of food everyone has brought, anxious to make these moments together worry-free feasts of friendship. We have an awful lot when you get right down to it; more than enough, really.
We could spend our days focusing on the hard work. But if we did that, we’d only see half of the picture. We’d be overlooking the abundance of good times, good friends and good food that surrounds us every day. When you look closely enough, it becomes apparent: There’s plenty.
Airdate: July 20, 2011
Photo courtesy of Downing Street via Flickr.