Tomato Aspic

By Julie Richardson

“We’re going to Mrs. Jackson’s house for lunch,” my dad said to my younger sister and me, “and I expect you to be on your best behavior.”

“Um…okay,” was our rather reluctant reply. We’d been residents of Winder, Georgia, for less than a year, uprooted from our happy life in South Texas so our dad could take the position of senior minister of First Christian Church in Winder, and neither my sister or I were really happy or comfortable with the situation yet.

The occasion required Sunday-best clothing (as defined in the Deep South), and our best efforts at manners, not all that hard considering we’d had several years practice being preachers’ kids.

Annie Jackson’s house sat on a main street through small-town Winder, red brick, with white trim and pillars gracing the front porch. There were hardwood floors and a big fireplace and we ate at a formal dining room table.

I remember like it was yesterday and not 25-plus years ago, the first course of that meal at Mrs. Jackson’s: tomato aspic. This odd, and I soon determined disgusting, gelatinous mold of tomato…and maybe meat broth…and spices I couldn’t name. It was cold, and served on a small plate on a leaf of lettuce, and as it was set down in front of me, I remember thinking, “No. Way.”

Of course, “Yes. Way,” because even politely declining wasn’t an option. And somehow my sister and I, we managed.

Years later, I learned that Annie Jackson, and her already-by-then deceased husband Theo, were tremendous financial supporters of both our local Disciples congregation and the wider church. It seems that as a young girl, Annie Jackson had earned extra money for her family by cleaning the church building they lived next to–a Disciples church.

When I showed up as a first-year student at LTS in the fall of 1997, the then-Vice President greeted me with, “Oh yes, you’re from Mrs. Jackson’s church.”

Annie Jackson was also a tremendous supporter of Lexington Theological Seminary, so much so that at her death in the late 1990’s, she left a portion of her estate to the Seminary.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Winder, a long time since I’ve been a student at LTS, and a long time since Annie Jackson died. And so I’d forgotten all this until a few weeks ago. And then, while reviewing past gifts to LTS, I came across “Annie Jackson.” My very first thought was, “Oh! The tomato aspic!”

She’s been on my mind ever since, her memory this thing I’ve tried to capture as I think about how and why individuals and alumni and congregations give to this Seminary; her gift to LTS this thing I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for.

Miss Annie, she made me eat tomato aspic, and I’ll never forget it. But she also, through tremendous generosity, has made it possible for many of us to follow a call to ministry via a theological education at Lexington Theological Seminary.

May we all, each in our own way and within our own means, find ourselves capable of such generosity.