The first snowflakes of fall fell from gray, ominous clouds that overtook our tiny valley. Inside my grandmother’s kitchen, the smell of simmering beef broth filled the room as she stood stirring away at the pot over the stove, adding salt and pepper ever so gingerly to the brew. “This soup will make a fine addition to Thanksgiving dinner,” she said as I busily cut vegetables on a maple cutting board worn away from years of use.
Smiling, I finished chopping the carrots for the beef lentil soup and felt a feeling of satisfaction that I was done. Then, just as I cleared the cutting board, my grandmother handed me an ear of corn that she had frozen earlier in the year from her garden. I sighed ever so slightly realizing I was not done. Attempting to take the corn from her, I looked up at my grandmother. I noticed a tear rolling down her cheek. “Grandmamma, are you okay?” I asked as I stood up and placed my hand on her shoulder. She took a moment and then a brief, uncomfortable laugh came from her as she began to tell a story of her beloved town of Donbridge.
It was long known that the British had occupied much of the colonial states of America and it was long since known and felt by many in the area of the Hudson Valley that war was inevitable. While most people continued their lives and ignored the inklings and whispers of war, there were others who made it a point to spread what news they heard. Donbridge townsfolk seemed to divide into three categories: those who cared, those who listened, and those who simply avoided it altogether until it actually affected them. It was the last category that in this case actually took action when one of the most tragic of events occurred.
On an early spring morning, Lillian Mapes was on a trip to her sister’s house in Boston along with her son and daughter. While most of the whispers of Boston had been of outrage, violence and discontent toward British troops, the Mapes family were those in Donbridge who tended to steer clear of the news. But when they arrived in Boston, they encountered a British raid of her sister’s borough. Unfortunately during the rebel crossfire, Lillian’s carriage was hit with stray shots. Soon the wheel of her carriage began to give way and, noticing immediate danger, she quickly grabbed her children and leaped into a nearby haystack where they stayed until the violence subsided. The next day, Lillian borrowed a carriage from her sister and headed back home to Donbridge with her children. With this newfound evidence, the Mapes helped call a town meeting to order in the church to discuss Lillian’s encounter in the north.
For weeks Donbridge deliberated on how they would keep violence from coming to their town. Farmers made pleas to the town elders about exports of their crops, and Mrs. Sharp of the General Store worried that her supplies would never get through any blockades. Panicked and unsure of their path, many hoped for a miracle. With the usual happenstance in Donbridge, a miracle was soon to come to the town in the form of weather.
About two weeks before planting season, heavy rains flooded all of the usual farm fields of Donbridge. The soil was not draining and farmers knew that the saturated soil would easily rot any seeds planted in the spongy soil. Word spread through the town as farmers stopped into Sharps General Store to place a hold on their seed orders since planting had ceased.
While waiting in line, one farmer, John Sutton, was waiting to speak to Mrs. Sharp when his eye became fixed on a puzzle that was displayed on the counter. As he looked at the puzzle, he saw it was a labyrinth which appeared to be nearly impassable. Intrigued by the puzzle, he started to think of Donbridge’s current problems and quickly jumped out of line and headed for the town elders.
Soon the town gathered again for a meeting. This time, John addressed the crowd and showed the townsfolk the puzzle he found at Sharps General Store. Most people snickered at first and then he explained how the puzzle and the corn planting were the key to both saving the town from the coming revolutionary war and for planting the crops. Townsfolk whispered amongst themselves for a while and then agreed to John’s plan.
Not long after, the entire valley from the forest to the edges of town was planted in corn lined in circular maze rows. Set throughout the fields were booby traps and pitfalls. As the corn grew, the tall stalks hid the entire town and only Donbridgians knew the key to get through the maze. Each year the town planted the corn and changed the maze. It was said that when British troops finally did try to take the town of Donbridge they found themselves lost for weeks. In one instance it was said that one of Cornell Cornwallis’ largest regiments of troops became so lost in the maze that it ended up deep in the heart of Ohio, never to be heard from again.
When my grandmother finished her story, she wiped her tear away and headed back to her work at the stove. A knock came at the door and my aunt from next door rushed into the kitchen holding the daily newspaper in her hands. Handing it to my grandmother, she waved goodbye and I watched as my grandmother set her spoon down upon the countertop. As my grandmother opened the paper, she looked down at the headlines and sighed. “You know, sometimes a corn maze might just work to lead evil out of the way of good.”
Beef Lentil Soup
1/2 cup soaked lentils
1/2 lb. chopped beef
1/8 tsp. salt
1/10 tsp. pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 tsp. tomato puree
2 peeled, chopped carrots
1/2 cup corn kernels
3 stalks celery, chopped
Water as needed
DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet brown beef, adding salt and pepper. Add 1/4 cup of water to the mixture. In a large soup pot, combine browned beef mixture, 6 cups of water and all other ingredients. Add water as you simmer the soup or as needed. Simmer for 12 hours. Add in the carrots and celery last and simmer for 25 minutes more. Let stand for 15 minutes and serve.