"It's not gumbo."
The first cool spell just hit and my husband says, “I want to make gumbo today.” It’s a big statement. A lot goes in to making gumbo. The roux alone is a herculean task—the constant stirring of oil and flour for maybe an hour, slowly turning it from an off-white to a deep, dark amber color. Under cook it and your roux tastes like flour. Cook it just too long and it can burn and you have start all over again.
I learned a great lesson about gumbo (and life) from our dear friend, Michael LeBourgeois. He was making gumbo one afternoon for a few lucky friends. With everything in the pot, he set it to simmer and we headed out to the porch to sip on a beer. Every half hour or so, he’d go check on it, give it a stir and a taste, only to return and say, “it’s not gumbo”. After a couple of rounds of this, I followed him into the kitchen. It tasted good to me, but he insisted, “it’s not gumbo”. I don’t remember how much time passed, but the magic moment finally came when he tasted it and said, “it’s gumbo”. Having a spoonful myself, I knew exactly what he meant. It had changed. It had transformed. Somehow, all of those components had melded and turned into something amazing. It was gumbo.
I think of that day often. Many times when I’m working on a painting. Sometimes I get impatient and just want to finish it, to get to the end of it so I can move on to the next one. There might be layers and layers of paint, marks and forms, but I can see it’s still ‘not gumbo’. It hasn’t really become something yet. It hasn’t come to life yet. So I stay with it, adding more, excavating more, and then finally I get to a point where just another line or area of color is too much. It’s done.
These days, we all seem to want things now, five minutes ago, yesterday. But some things just take time. A pot of soup. A painting. Growing a tree. Losing ten pounds. Relationships. A career. Healing. But, I’m seeing that these things often give us more than our original intent. There was a lot of laughter and connection happening that afternoon waiting on our friend’s gumbo. When my husband made his gumbo this past weekend, he was lost in it. Hours of time thinking about his childhood, what he loves, where he’s been, where he wants to go. That wouldn’t have happened if he had just opened up a can of Campbell’s soup.