Marilyn Jansen grew up a southern Missouri hillbilly. She lived down a long gravel road that crossed through two creeks, in a holler snug up against some of the tallest hills in Missouri. Her hillbilly roots gave her the strength to move away from the hills to become an editor and writer. But she never forgot the lessons she learned nor lost the connection to people she loved. She told the stories and shared the recipes wherever she went. No matter how far she got from home, God kept her snug up against His grace and protection. Her first book, Come Sit a Spell—filled with stories from three generations of kitchens, each with devotional insight and a recipe—shows how all along God was using her roots to give her wings. It is a grace to welcome Marilyn to the farm’s front porch today.
“Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!” PSALM 61:4 NLT
It’s looking bad to the west!” Grandma’s voice crackled over the phone. I took a gander out the window of our trailer, and sure enough, the sky was black and scary.
“Looks like storms are a-comin’!” I said.
“I’m fixin’ to head to the cellar. You’uns come on now.”
Grandma Dunn was excessively afraid of storms her whole life. She would call to warn us when they were rolling in, and we would run down the lane to join her in the root cellar. It was just up the hill from Grandma’s house and just down the hill from ours—close enough to get to if you knew a storm was coming, but far enough that you needed a raincoat or an umbrella if you dillydallied too long. Besides Grandma and Grandpa, three households made use of the root cellar—two of Mom’s brothers’ families and mine.
My curiosity was always piqued when it came to the cellar. It was off-limits to us kids unless there was a storm. Naturally, “off-limits” meant I had a hankerin’ something fierce to get in there.
Years ago, some unknown ancestor dug a space into the hill just beyond the vegetable garden to make the cellar. It sat at the junction of the gravel road—a cow path, really—where it doglegged from Grandma’s house to ours. The dark, cool space helped preserve vegetables and seeds that our families put by for the next year’s planting.
Its shelves groaned with the weight of the previous year’s bounty—row upon row of jars filled with beans, pickles, cabbage, tomatoes, apples, corn, zucchini relish, and more. In the shadowy back of the cellar was a big bin where pounds and pounds of potatoes chilled for the winter. There was a creaky old wood lid on the bin, and during a storm, we cousins would scramble up on it so we could see our parents eye-to-eye. Their eyes forecasted how bad the storms really were.
“I was with the people I loved most, the adults who would protect me with their lives. I was never afraid. I looked forward to storms.”
Those few times Grandma opened up the cellar to us, I didn’t want to miss a thing—the goodies hiding on the shelves, the fullness of the potato bin, the dancing shadows our kerosene lamp would scatter across the walls and ceiling. Even though I knew there was a storm raging outside, I used the opportunity to explore that fantastical place.
Girls with good sense would have hunkered down, minded their manners, and feared the storm. But not being one of those, I examined every canned good, counted the pickles in the jars, and asked a million questions of Grandma as she stood peeking out the door, wringing her hands and watching for a funnel cloud. She also kept an eye on the washhouse, where Grandpa so often whittled away the storm. He was an ornery one.
From the outside, the cellar faded into the trees on the hill, except for cement block arms that welcomed you in. Those blocks existed to keep dirt and water from overtaking the walkway to the door, but to me they looked like arms. Some of my cousins were afraid of the cellar, but I thought of it as a place where the hill reached out to hug us, like a mother hen sheltering her chicks under her wings and close to her heart. I was with the people I loved most, the adults who would protect me with their lives. I was never afraid. I looked forward to storms.
“Storms redirect our focus. They help us reconnect to our faith. Storms teach us how to weather the calms.”
Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (NIV). That root cellar may have seemed dark and dank to some, but to me, it was the underneath arms of refuge. It was safety when home was not.
As an adult, I forget the opportunities storms bring. In the root cellar our blessings were right there on the shelves to be counted. We were surrounded by the people we loved, and God’s protection felt as real as the cinder blocks holding up the shelves.
Storms redirect our focus. They help us reconnect to our faith. Storms teach us how to weather the calms.
We rode out many a storm in that cellar. Not once did we see a funnel, nor did we lose any property. But in that cellar, our family’s roots grew deeper. It truly was a root cellar.
Marilyn Jansen has been writing and creating since she glued dandelions into her first book at age four. She is a budding photographer who takes way too many photos of seen but under-appreciated things. Because she has been an editor in Christian publishing since 1998, her haphazardly stacked collections of books threaten to take over her home. As co-owner of Nashville Cooks, Marilyn writes about Music City’s diverse food scene and contributes recipes inspired by those menus. She has three adult children and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Her book Come Sit a Spell takes you back to a time when people’s lives were real and raw, where folks lived lives full of love hard-worn. Through her personal reflections on growing up in the Missouri Ozarks, she reminds us that God’s love comforts and guides us even when the pantry is empty. These stories, based on memories from three generations of kitchens, come fully baked with recipes that just about anyone can master, and ingredients that are staples in almost every cupboard. Come Sit a Spell is about people and food—not the glamorous kind, but the everyday, love-’em-with-all-you-got kind that is the foundation of country homes across America.
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale for their partnership in today’s devotion ]