Charles White is young, fine, and smoking his ubiquitous long fat cigar that is nearly the same color as he. Giving me a lesson in copper plate etching in Varnette’s fanciful studio, he has dangled heart-shaped copper cut-outs in various patinas, sizes, and designs around the studio, creating a charming and festive workspace.
Flattered by his willingness to teach, I’m speechless when Charlie says that he’s impressed with my work and sure that he is just being kind. Embarrassed by all of the flaws in my work and concerned that he’ll discover that I am not nearly as good as he thinks, I feel like an imposter.
In deep appreciation for his mentoring, I teach Charlie to make my fabulous sweet potato pie. The kitchen smells divine, but he doesn’t know that I have not disclosed the secret ingredients for the pies – my special prayers to that red root. Once he tastes a warm slice he knows that I withheld a secret ingredient and he wants to trade his sterling watch for my complete recipe.
Again, I feel unworthy because the magic prayers are so simple that the silver watch will be an overpayment. When I share the prayers, he says, “The mysterious alchemical process that feeds the root of humanity is more valuable than all the silver I own.”
He hugs me, and in a soft voice says, “most people don’t know that they are prayer alchemists in service to the tuber.”