By Steve Costello
When I was a little boy, one of my favorite stories was the folk tale about stone soup. I remember being inspired by the thought that stones could be the key ingredients in what turns out to be a delicious meal for an entire community. They can’t, of course, but the magic of the story stuck with me into adulthood, and I still think of it when big challenges lie ahead and a lot of people are needed to overcome them.
Like most fables, there are countless variations, but the basic story, in case you don’t know it, is simple: A tired, penniless man stumbles into a village filled with desperation, crops having failed and every family laboring under the weight of hunger. The man carries everything he owns in a piece of cloth tied to the end of a stick, which he carries over his shoulder.
Fearful of the bedraggled stranger, most villagers close their windows and doors; a few threaten him and urge him to move on. “There’s nothing for you here,” one woman yells after being asked for food.
“I guess I’ll make stone soup,” he replies.
“Stone soup?” comes the reply.
“There’s nothing better.”
The man pulls a bent and battered pot from the cloth and makes a fire to set it upon. He adds water, and drops in a large stone removed from his handmade satchel.
A while later the man tastes the water. “Delicious!” he exclaims. “It is wonderful, though with a leaf of cabbage it would be a meal fit for a king.”
The woman, now curious and enthralled, finds a small cabbage, which is added to the water, which he tastes again. “Amazing!” he exclaims. “The best I’ve ever had.”
The woman’s neighbor has now ventured out and runs to get a tiny tomato from a withering vine. Another brings a small onion, while another adds the leg of a chicken.
“It’s enough to fill every belly,” the old man cries, and soon the entire village has been fed with stone soup, an empty pot and the stone the only evidence of the meal, each man and woman convinced the stone was magical.
The man, now sated, packs the pot in his cloth and begins to walk away. As he leaves town, he hands the stone to a young child, and tells him the secret of the stone soup: “It is not the stone, but the people, who perform the magic.”
I was reminded of the story several times over the past couple of weeks after plans were announced for this year’s Gift-of-Life Marathon–12 days of Giving, particularly as I watched Mayor Louras accept the Red Cross’ Sponsor of the Year Award on behalf of the greater Rutland community in honor of last year’s blood drive.
The magic of the 2013 drive–a national record–as in the story of stone soup, was in the people of the community, a fact recognized by the Red Cross. And so it will be from Dec. 2 to 16, when the community will once again make magic, this time at sites all across the region.
Steve Costello of Rutland Town is a Green Mountain Power vice president and one of the organizers of the Gift-of-Life Marathon.