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CASCADE OBSERVATIONS: A reminder to ‘cast kindness’

It’s a familiar sight: a large display ad, filled with columns of names, taking up nearly half a page in a local newspaper. These ads proliferate during election seasons, powerful visual statements in support or opposition to an issue or a candidate.

In the March 27, 2013, issue of the Forest Grove, Oregon News-Times, such an ad can be seen on page A3. This ad, though, is no political endorsement. Rather, it’s a declaration of love and support, signed by almost 300 people and placed in a prominent spot for the whole community to see.

The subject of their adoration is Maggie Pike, owner of Maggie’s Buns, a popular restaurant in downtown Forest Grove. The ad is in response to a catastrophe that has left Maggie reeling.

In mid-March she catered a luncheon after which more than a dozen people became ill. The health department traced the illness to norovirus found in a fruit salad. The source of the virus has not been determined — no one on Pike’s staff had been ill, nor became ill afterwards. None of her customers at the restaurant were sickened.

All of the sick recovered except one man, who died several days later. As of late March, his death has not been directly linked to the catered lunch. However, the mere suggestion that Pike might bear some responsibility sent her into a panic.

Maggie is known throughout the area for her catering. She’s cooked for Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Forest Service, local colleges and hundreds of weddings. After 16 years in business and a myriad of caterings, this is the first time her restaurant has been linked to a food-related illness. It’s devastating to her emotionally, and potentially devastating to the future of her business.

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I first learned of this story while watching the 5 o’clock news on television. I was listening with one ear while I read the paper, when I heard the name Maggie’s Buns in connection with a recent death. I’ve been to the bun house (as it is affectionately called by its customers). Cinnamon rolls are the specialty of the place, but the restaurant serves up all kinds of comfort food.

Mention of the name, though, was more than of passing interest to me: Maggie Pike is my sister-in-law, the original Hood River Margaret Kelter (before I married her older brother and took the name myself). She grew up here, and got her start in the cinnamon roll business when she worked at Bette’s Place during high school.

In an accompanying front-page article in the Forest Grove newspaper, the reporter noted that many media sources immediately linked Maggie’s restaurant to the death, even though the local health department had made no such connection. TV vans parked outside Maggie’s restaurant, hungry for more than a sweet roll.

As so often happens, the media and those of us who are news junkies were quick to speculate and judge without adequate information. In this case, my personal connection forced me to do more research before coming to any conclusions. Thankfully, so did hundreds of Maggie’s customers, who continue to visit her establishment and eat her food — and who signed their names to a very public love letter.

Here’s the text of that ad:

“For more than 15 years Maggie Pike and the rest of the crew at her famous bun house have been catering to the needs of our community. But Forest Grove’s dining dynamo does much more than provide great food and a cozy gathering place. Maggie helps us in our celebrations, comforts us in our times of loss and supports countless charities and causes through donated time and meals. Her generosity and tireless efforts earned her the honor of being selected a News-Times ‘Hometown Hero’ in 2009 and she continues to be a big part of why Forest Grove is such a special community. So from all of us: Thanks, Maggie, for all you do.”

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I can’t help thinking that the above declaration is similar to what we all might say about someone special — after they die. In obituaries and at funerals, we are anxious to speak about a person’s attributes, contributions and passions. But how many of us make such public declarations while those we care about and admire are alive? Conversely, how many of us are quick to judge others without complete information?

My young friend Jorge Garcia, who grew up in Hood River, sits in the penitentiary in Pendleton serving a sentence for criminal conspiracy. He was involved in the death of an abusive person who hounded his family for years. When his family could take no more, they took action; a grave mistake that has cost Jorge his freedom.

Jorge doesn’t complain about his circumstances, but he frets constantly about what people back home think of him. He doesn’t want to be remembered as the handcuffed criminal in an orange jumpsuit (how he appeared in a photograph on the front page of this newspaper). Rather, he hopes we think of him as a kind and gentle person, the smiling young man who waited on us at Rosauers and always had something nice to say.

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The Book of John states “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” I am guilty of many sins, including gossiping and making quick and ill-informed judgments. Those kind folks in Forest Grove remind us that we all should aspire to think before we comment, and to cast kindness instead of harmful stones.

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