The first time I ever had vichyssoise, I was sixteen years old and staying in a rented house in the North Carolina mountains for a church weekend with my parents and siblings and several other families. As a first course one evening, our congregation's unanimously elected cook, Marcia, served us a cold potato and leek soup. We ate it out of mugs, sitting at a picnic table in the yard, all of us still flagging from the day's early July heat, which was formidable even after sunset and even at that altitude. Vichyssoise was the perfect food for that evening and its quintessentially blue Appalachian twilight, and Marcia's version was, not surprisingly, the perfect one to serve as my introduction to the dish.
Marcia was one of my first Sunday school teachers when my family started attending church again in 1982. Powell Presbyterian had a small congregation, and some Sunday mornings I was the only kid in the class. Stories have always appealed to me; I often say I'm a sucker for a narrative, which is probably why I became an English teacher. Marcia's explanations of biblical tales gave me a familiarity with the narratives of both testaments that would eventually help me win a partial Bible Scholarship to Montreat College ten years later. (I wrote my scholarship application essay on Noah and the significance of the rainbow's promise). Though Marcia always wore ladylike skirt suits to church, she was no shrinking violet. She had studied chemical engineering in college and then worked for eighteen years as a safety analyst in the nuclear industry, in addition to having raised three sons. Even now, whenever I think of the Biblical St. Paul, I always picture her bearded, intelligent, kind-faced husband of the same name. Marcia was kind, too, yet she was also outspoken and had a certain earthiness: she made my high school church friends and me blush furiously when she remarked baldly, during one youth group outing to her house to harvest peaches from her orchards, "Hmph! Sex is the smallest part of what marriage really is." (I suspect we had probably been giggling and whispering about something along those lines.)