The other day, I received this Facebook message from a woman in Laurel County:
“Hi, Tara. My daughter Kirsten works at Lake Cumberland with your husband Dr. Baker. She had given him some beef liver before, and he said he really liked it. My husband and I are going to be in Somerset tomorrow. If you wouldn’t care to meet me, we have five packages of beef liver that we would like to give to you both. No one here eats it. Let me know if that works for you.”
I stared at the message and then I smiled and then I got a little weepy and then I told myself to dry up and smiled again.
Of course, I thought. Leslie Schofield of London. Her daughter Kirsten had not only given us beef liver, she had supplied us with farm fresh eggs for years. And some pretty sweet (and serious!) apple pie moonshine at Christmas, too.
I answered Leslie right away, tripping all over myself with gratitude and telling her, yes, we would be beyond happy to receive her gift.
Before you know it, we had a meeting spot and Leslie had informed me that, in addition to the liver, she was bringing us eggs as well as a full pan of ziti that served six.
“If you’re like me, anytime you don’t have to cook is great,” she wrote.
A few days later, I met Leslie Schofield for the second time in my life in the IGA parking lot. It was raining so we were only able to chat for a few minutes. But after the exchange, my trunk was packed with ziti, liver, about 50 eggs and, for good measure, an entire grocery bag of fresh broccoli.
I have thought and talked about this offering a lot over the past few weeks and it’s made me come to a few conclusions. First, fellow foodies are amazing. But second, I think I’m finally starting to understand rural living a bit better.
It’s possible that one of the tenets at its core is something I’m calling a heart diamond, which is exactly what Leslie gave us: a beautiful, unexpected gift from, essentially, a stranger or loose acquaintance.
It’s worth mentioning that a heart diamond is different than a simple Pay It Forward. Receive one of those and you feel great, but then immediately feel this pressure to pass it on. So you buy the breakfast for the person behind you in the drive-thru line, just as yours was paid for you.
A heart diamond, by contrast, is so random that it’s impossible to return the favor — or at least not right away. The gift is too specific in nature.
I received my first heart diamond way back when I was a reporter at The Sentinel-Echo. It was about 2006 and I had been writing my column for about a year by then. Short on a topic, I decided to write about my upcoming birthday (whew, I’m brilliant), probably bemoaning the fact that I was getting close to turning 30 (spare me).
A few days later, I checked my work mailbox and there was this bright red envelope sitting there. Inside it was a birthday card from a lady who had read my column. It was signed in beautiful cursive, each ornamented letter painstakingly formed.
I remember being absolutely floored by this. That a stranger had, a), taken the time to read about my birthday and then, b), followed through with the inclination to acknowledge it? Incredible. Nothing like this had ever happened to me. And I firmly believe it wouldn’t have if I had continued to live in a city, where anonymity silently reigns as queen.
I hung that card up on my bulletin board at work and never took it down.
Over the years, I’ve been the recipient of many more heart diamonds. I’ve received St. Patty’s Day Boston terrier-themed socks in my mailbox, gifted anonymously. I have found gorgeous banana bread wrapped in tinfoil, again in my mailbox. After our dog Fitzi passed, one of my neighbors, who I only casually know, caught me while I was jogging and handed me a Christmas ornament acknowledging the loss.
As my confidence grew, I’ve tried to offer my own (albeit meagre) gifts in turn. One day, after driving by someone’s beautiful pond year after year on Frog Hollow Road, I finally dropped a note in their mailbox thanking them for the pretty view.
I ascribe this kind of gift to rural living because, frankly, news travels fast in a small place. It didn’t take much for Leslie, for example, to know my husband and I love liver. All of us know just a little bit more about each other here than we would, say, if we lived in Pittsburg. The network is just too small not to overlap.
Still, the network isn’t so small that we do actually know each other. And that’s what makes the heart diamond pack such a punch: because there isn’t a significant relationship between giver and recipient, there is no expectation (or, in some cases, even possibility) of a future exchange. In fact, to try to return the favor can even be interpreted as rude. The kindness is truly just there to shine on its own.
So, I’ve started to spend a few minutes each day thinking about the heart diamond network that exists amongst us as neighbors surprise neighbors, strangers surprise strangers. I wonder, if you hit upon it right, if you can see it. Is it silvery like spider webs on a misty morning? Or, when it’s very quiet at night, does it hum like electric lines? Does it sing?
It’s worth investigating.
Either way, I want to express my deepest thanks to Leslie Schofield. And her beautiful heart.