This is Bill Felker with Poor Will's Almanack for the first week of Middle Fall.
Not so long ago, I ran a story contest in my farm almanacs, and I received many unusual anecdotes - a description of poisoned chickens coming back to life, and a wild outhouse saga - among others.
The very last story I received was postmarked in Saskatchewan, and it was called "Perfecting My Porridge." The writer gave no return address, no name other than J.W.
Here's what J.W. said:
"I was hired to keep house for a man on a farm in west central Saskatchewan. He had a few chickens and took the eggs into a large town a few miles to the east.
"Towards the end of my stay, the man insisted that I get up and make his breakfast because he wanted porridge. He had three types: oat bran, oatmeal and cream of wheat. The first time I made the oat bran, it boiled over, but the cleanup was easy and I had no problems after that. No lumps, no burns.
"I am not a person who enjoys porridge a lot," said J.W, "but the experience I will remember the rest of my life. I am, a country person at heart (on both sides of my family), and the time I spent there, I know, was beneficial to my health."
My first reaction to this story was to look on the other side of the page to see what I'd missed - which was, of course, nothing. My next reaction was a large smile, and I pictured J.W. making porridge alone in the kitchen on cold and windy Saskatchewan mornings, taking joy in getting it right.
And I thought about the flow of J.W.'s story, as opposed to the others I had received. Her adventure was her simple revelation, her structure without plot or climax, without artifice, and as plain as her moral. And I thought about the things I was trying to balance in my life, and I thought how imperfect my practices and plots were, and how pure and single-minded, how wise the motions of J.W. perfecting her porridge.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the second week of Middle Fall. In the meantime, perfect your porridge, get it right.