Orange and yellow leaves enveloped our valley, transforming it into a rainbow canopy that stretched for miles. Sitting on our front porch bench, I could smell smoke from burning leave piles from the neighbors’ yards. The smell was carried all about the meadows, leaving hints that winter was soon to come.
My father was working in the front flowerbeds when my grandmother pulled her car into our driveway. No sooner did she stop her car than she thrust the door open, shouting, “Hey, fellas! Mums are three for one at the farmers’ market! Michael, you want to come with me?” she asked. I was already at the handle of her passenger door.
Riding along the countryside, my grandmother saw a Halloween display in the front yard of a neighbor. I did not think much of it, but my grandmother was transfixed with the planter that was in the front yard. It looked nothing out of the ordinary, just an old pot hanging on a tripod. “What is it, Grandmamma?” I asked as I tried to catch her attention. “That old pot reminds me of an old legend from long ago in Donbridge,” she said. And she began a tale as we traveled down the road to the market.
The Kirby family lived in the last house on Main Street in the town of Donbridge. They were refugees from Ireland and had survived many wars and riots throughout their country. In any case, they were a quiet family, but it was said they had in their possession a cauldron which was passed down in their family for over 500 years.
The history of this cauldron began with a Viking captain who was cursed by a witch and when he died, his soul was forever trapped in the confines of the cast-iron pot. Now the legend said that his soul could only be released once a year on All Hallows Eve, but what exactly would happen, no one really knew. Centuries passed and the cauldron was passed from generation to generation and in all that time, not a person living used the cauldron on All Hallows Eve and so the captain’s soul remained locked in time, forever waiting.
When the Kirbys came to Donbridge, Maddy Kirby was asked to present a creative paper to the entire schoolhouse, and so she spoke of the cauldron. But Maddy never knew of the curse nor of the Viking captain who lurked in the depths of the iron. The children were fascinated by the story of the great pot and Mrs. Canter, who wanted to make soup for the children, asked Maddy if she could convince her father to lend the school the great cauldron. Soon after that, the teacher made her famous carrot soup for the children.
Weeks passed and soon it was All Hallows Eve. Mrs. Canter had worked through lunch that day with the children and asked them to skip lunch and in return she would make an evening stew for the class as a reward for their hard work. That evening, students chopped the vegetables and Mrs. Canter poured in chopped beef. The instant she placed the great cauldron over the fireplace, a massive flash of light overcame the room and from the cauldron the spirit of the Viking captain overtook the room. At that moment, everyone in the classroom disappeared and the spirit of the Viking evaporated into the heavens.
By evening, when the schoolchildren had not returned, search parties headed out, scouring the countryside carrying lanterns and torches. But for all their effort, not a child nor the teacher was found. When the town elders came back to the schoolhouse, shivers fell across the men who entered the building as the big black cauldron stood over burned-out ash in the fireplace. The elders, seeing nothing more could be done, asked the caretaker of the cemetery to clean up the schoolhouse. Being a deliberate kind of a man, he set to work in the same evening that the children went missing. Seeing there was stew in the pot that was now cold, the caretaker decided to light the fire and heat up the stew. The instant he did, a massive flash of light emerged from the cauldron. Every child and the teacher reappeared, but the caretaker was gone.
Mrs. Canter quickly pulled the cauldron from the flames and doused the fire with a bucket of water. Not long after, the cauldron, along with its one imprisoned soul, was removed and placed back into the care of the Kirbys, never to be used again.
When my grandmother finished her tale, we were at the farmers’ market. We hopped out of the car and bought a few mums. “What a deal!” she said as she loaded them into the trunk of her car. When we arrived back at my house, we pulled into the driveway and saw my father. He was lugging an old black pot from one of the sheds at the back of our property. “Ma,” he said as he pointed to the great cast-iron pot. “I am going to use this old pot of yours for a flowerpot for those mums; is that OK?” he asked, dusting it off. “That’s fine, Henry. Just don’t light it up; you never know what will happen to you, especially on All Hallows Eve,” she said as she took two mums from the trunk of her car. All I could do was stare at my grandmother in wonderment.
Mrs. Canter’s Beef Stew
1 1/2 pounds chopped chuck beef
4 large carrots
2 celery stalks
1 clove garlic
2 cups tomato juice
4 medium white potatoes
2 bay leaves
1 cup green beans
1 cup shelled peas
1 cup beef stock
spices to taste
Chop all vegetables into small cubes. Brown beef in a large skillet along with onion and garlic. Add a dash of garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Once cooked, pour the ingredients into a large pot. Add all other ingredients except beef stock and one cup of water to the pot. Let stew simmer for 45 minutes. At this point, create a thickener. In a mixing cup, add one cup of beef stock, 3 tablespoons of flour, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Once mixed, pour the liquid into the stew and stir in gently. Simmer and stir for another 15 minutes then let stand for 20 minutes. Serve over rice if desired.