Sibley’s Marilyn Poppen is the pickle connoisseur in my small world.
She has brought numerous trays of delicious sweet and sour pickles — soft slices and the crunchy variety — to more First Presbyterian Church dinners than I could begin to count.
She’s also blessed me with a specific pickled specialty I didn’t even know existed before I met her. But more about that later.
Marilyn was born and raised in Spirit Lake. She attended college following high school graduation to earn a two-year teaching certificate. She was just 19 years old when she was hired to teach sixth grade at Sibley Central School in 1955.
“I chose Sibley,” she told me, “because they offered the most money — $3,000 a year.”
But the move turned providential. It was much more than a job opportunity since it led to her marriage.
America was involved in the Korean War at that time and Roger Poppen, her future husband, like so many young men, was serving his stint in the Navy.
He was, he told me, stationed at San Diego and looking forward to returning home to the family farm.
His mother, wanting to keep Roger aware of what was happening back home, arranged for him to get the hometown newspaper every week.
The fall before his discharge Roger was reading that week’s Gazette when he came across the annual page featuring photos of all the new teachers who were joining Sibley’s teaching staff.
Marilyn’s photo was included, of course, as the new sixth-grade teacher.
“There were a lot of new teachers that year,” Marilyn remembered as Roger shared his story.
But Roger plowed on saying “When I saw her picture, way out there on the West Coast, I told myself I was going to date her when I got back home.”
So, the couple eventually met on a blind date. It wasn’t an easy task for Roger when he learned Marilyn already had a date that night.
But Marilyn encouraged him to move forward by suggesting she was available another evening.
And the rest is history. The couple married a year-and-a-half later and celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary on Tuesday, June 23.
But Roger’s call wasn’t Marilyn’s first connection with the Poppen family.
Earlier, Marilyn, who had grown up attending the Presbyterian Church in Spirit Lake, had begun attending services at Sibley’s First Presbyterian. Roger’s mother noticed the newcomer and invited Marilyn to be her guest at the church’s annual mother-daughter dinner. Neither suspected any future relationship with Roger, who still was in San Diego, at that time.
But back to Marilyn’s pickles. Her little green tomato pickles to be specific. She makes them with those tiny tomatoes, that when red and ripe, you often see on a restaurant’s salad bar.
I’ve never seen anything like them before and I love them. They’re a perfect blend of sweet and sour. Two or three on a dinner plate adds just the right extra snap to anything from pasta to fish.
I’m sure Marilyn isn’t the only one to make such delightful pickles. I grew up with a grandmother who was a professional chef and she never put them on the table. And Connie’s mother and Connie are among the best hostesses and cooks that have ever lived but neither of them ever served those tomato pickles either.
But Marilyn, knowing my love of them has given me many pint jars for my birthday, Christmas and just because.
I have enjoyed and appreciated each jar, but I’ve especially enjoyed the most recent pint of pickles.
They were lovingly delivered by Marilyn personally just days after I got home from the Heart Hospital. Roger was out spraying, she told to me, but the two of them wanted me to know they had been praying for me and were glad I was back home and getting better.
And to make getting better more rewarding, she brought me a jar of her green tomato pickles.
I’ve enjoyed many welcome home gifts the last few weeks from bouquets of flowers to an entire hot apple pie to fresh strawberries. All were little gifts of kindness.
Aren’t such gifts, and those who give them, wonderful?
Peter W. Wagner lives in Sibley. He is the founder/publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.