Popcorn Eucharist...April 1, 2005
And on that night, with the assembled masses around the table, children peeking from behind their mother's skirts, it was said, “this is corn given for all of you, pop this in remembrance of me.” Pablo 3:7
My mother coined the description Popcorn Eucharist a few days after the event and captured its essence with a colored pencil sketch in her journal. Though it should be noted that my mothers drawing ability leaves something to be desired, her uncomplicated stick figures worked just fine. The lines moving in such a way along with the blend of colors swirling around the table crafted the mood, the laughter, the joy, and the sharing of this one very simple occasion.
The valley was dark yet the stars were crystal clear in the sky. It was one of the most beautiful canvases I have ever seen. On one side of the communal house a kerosene lamp illuminated the room where many were gathered to play the marimba, pluck a guitar, and tell stories. In the kitchen next door another group found light from the stoked fire in front of us. I sat, one leg over the other, on a tough wooden bench to one side of the firebox. Others crowded around; finding space on the benches or standing anywhere there was an opening. The firebox is a 3-foot by 3-foot raised platform of dirt. My mother had lugged an extra 2 pounds of popcorn donated by my aunt’s brother Carl up into the hills, a 2.5 hour hike for her. This popcorn was a gift to the village where we were spending time. One night everybody put their heads together in a huddle to try and figure out a way to cook this popcorn. The village, so dependent upon corn, had never made popcorn and it wasn’t like they had a popcorn maker, skillet, or any of the other normal tools we would expect to find when making popcorn.
One, two, three…break. The huddle broke ranks and the fun began. They (don Virgilio, doña Guadalupe, y doña Manuela) took a large clay pot and rigged up the rocks in the firebox to position it in the middle of the smoldering branches. They designated a large flat tortilla-cooking platter as the top. Don Virgilio tossed in a dollop of oil. This was not enough, but after I threw my two cents in, another half cup was added. Then about a third of the corn went in. don Virgilio began to stir the corn and oil mixture with a big wooden spoon. All of us crowded around the firebox in an almost ceremonial position, watching with animated eyes as the gleaming yellowish mixture moved round and round. The hilarity began as the kernels started popping, turning in an instant, to fluffy pure white morsels. Some decided to leap from the bowl. Quickly, doña Guadalupe covered the pot with the tortilla plate. We could all hear the familiar pop pop pop under the lid. I say familiar but that familiarity was really only for those of us who have popped popcorn before. Doña Guadalupe could not contain her curiosity and so she lifted the lid to find out what was happening. At this point the cooking process was in fast forward. kernels came shooting out, hitting people in the face, bouncing off bodies, and falling into the sand of the fire box where they were quickly grabbed by the eager fingers of those gathered around the merriment. There was quite a bit of screaming and laughing at this point. She quickly re-covered the pot. But popcorn will burn if it is not stirred. So they finally worked out that doña Guadalupe with two small cloths would hold the top slightly open (giving the bowl the appearance of a clam) while Virgilio stuck the spoon through the open mouth for a quick few swirls.
Soon the first batch was done and it was quickly whisked off the fire, the top removed, and the bowl covered with a small clothe. This managed to contain the still popping kernels, which kept trying to escape. We waited. Bit-by-bit the noises underneath the cloth grew farther and farther apart. We all sat on the edge of our seats as we thought the popcorn was ready and then once more there would be a pop. Finally we were convinced that it had popped its last pop and the popcorn was poured into a mid-size canasta (reed basket). Don Virgilio then walked around with the treat to the spectator who were, by now, anxious and curious. that was the best popcorn I have ever had.
Two more batches were made and each came out better than the last. Through it all though, laughter and conversation warmed us all just as much as the fire and the crunchy kernels. We all shared together that night, in maybe a little unorthodox of a way, a Eucharist that many will not forget for a long time.
Paul Pitcher is a missionary with the Christian Action of Guatemala (ACG). He serves as a communication and youth worker with ACG.
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