It’s end of the financial year report time, here in Australia. All over the country, community organisations are putting fingers to keyboards trying to compress into forms all the good work they do.
I work with Communities for Children who are in the enviable position of brokering funds to the local area and working closely with community groups. The reports we ask our partners to complete are substantial, providing far more information that funding bodies request. We do our best to fit 3,000 words into 700, to share the amazing work community workers and volunteers are doing right across our Shire.
Not to brag, but we have some outrageously committed and determined community workers and I don’t mind singing their praises. I have the equally enviable task of building capacity (current catch phrase) in community professions so they can best serve the families we all support. So good.
As a storyteller, it is excruciating to hear all the amazing stories and not be able to share them. So for all the community professionals in Cardinia Shire and all the families we care so passionately about, this story is for you.
Stone Soup (trad. adapted)
After a war. Which one? Does it matter? After a war when soldiers released from trenches were drifting aimlessly across the landscape and people were starving from years of destruction that ravaged village and castle alike, two soldiers wandered into a village.
The village was poor and poorer still for the taxes and pillaging of years of war, distrustful and with little to share. The soldiers walked from door to door, offering to work in exchange for somewhere to sleep and something to eat. Doors were not opened or were closed in their faces. Those few who listened, with exhausted courtesy, shook their heads sadly, sure they had nothing to offer.
The gardens were so ravaged and the soil so trampled, that one family had a few potatoes, another some carrots. Each family guarded their lot with the fierceness desperation brings. No children ran through the streets, no talking or laughter was heard and the air was heavy with grief.
“Not to worry,” said one soldier, in a voice that would carry, ”we have our magic soup stone and we will feast tonight.”
“Indeed,” said the other, “that would be just the thing. You get the water and I will start the fire.”
Suddenly industrious, the soldiers trotted off in different directions, one returning with a lazy barrow of wood and the other with a pail of water. In the village centre they stirred the remains of old old fires, from when the village had something to celebrate. With great elaboration they built the fire and dug out their enormous pot that travelled in the trolley they pulled between them.
“Hah-hah!,” cried the first soldier, in a carrying voice,” this will warm us up.” He poured the water in.
“Indeed,” said the other (a favourite word of his, being an agreeable fellow),”We will be full and warm tonight.”
When the water was bubbling, with great ceremony they took out from a velvet bag, secreted in their trolley, a grey stone. They placed it with many gleeful remarks, loud and echoing, smacking of lips and rubbing of bellies.
By this time, every child had snuck from their home and were watching from corners and hiding spots. As children will, they sniffed the air and they could smell the delicious aromas coming from the pot!
“Ahhh, shall I take just a taste, my friend? To check all is going well,” said the first soldier in a resonant voice.
“Indeed,” said the second, agreeably.
A ladle was produced and with much exclaiming and terrific amounts of slurping, the soup was tasted.
“Hmm, it is good but just an onion would make it so much better.”
A gasp was heard from behind them and then the scurrying of little feet. A child ran home and begged his family for their onions.
“Please oh please, it smells so delicious and just one onion would make it so much better. If we put the onion in the pot surely they would let us share the delicious soup?”
The family was convinced and three scrawny onions were found. With heads held high, the family promenaded to the pot and presented their onions.
“Oh, what fine fine onions, and how very kind of you. Would you please stay and share our wonderful stone soup with us?”
Of course the family would be delighted and the men rushed home to bring tables and chairs and bowls.
There followed some laughter and conversation until the next tasting.
“Hmm, it is good but just one potato would make it so much better.”
Another gasp and scurrying of feet. Another parade of proud parents and their potato. More laughter and conversation and tasting. And so it went until there were onions, potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, apples (for sweetness) and a veritable mish mash of greens and other vegetables plus considerable dollops of dripping.
By this time the whole village was gathered in the centre, around the fire, with tables and chairs and bowls, laughter and conversation. It was a festival of good spirits and kindness shared.
Eventually the soup was declared ready and all who tasted it declared it delicious. Finally will full bellies, warm from friendship, all returned home, including the soldiers in a comfortable barn and dreams were dreamt of better times ahead.
The next morning, presented on a table in the centre of the village was the Soup Stone and under it a note.
“Dear Villagers, thank you so much for sharing our Stone Soup with us. Without your wonderful contributions it would not have been the soup it was. We gift you all our special Soup Stone and wish you many happy evenings of sharing and laughter.
from the Soldiers”
And so it was.
What of the soldiers? Well they had got up before dawn, left stone and note and trundled onto the next village, picking up a nice grey stone on the way. We always need a bit of Stone Soup.
and that is the end of the story.