Canceled family meals have left us adrift. I clutch the lifesaver of memories and can’t help but smile. My favorite? Any meal with the people I love and cherish.
“So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family,
that it remains the measure of our stability…”
— Haniel Long
Good food helps, but good company, love, and a great dessert can cover up many flaws. Mashed potatoes too soupy? Wait. There is a strawberry pie with lots of whipped cream. The meat is too tough? Never mind, that German chocolate cake will erase any ill-thought toward the meat or the cook.
Food makes a social gathering. In my mother’s family, meals brought us together. The food and the people bind our hearts. If we begin to drift apart or don’t like each other, we still eat. A table full of homecooked food cures many ill-tempers or sullen children.
Four sisters grew up on an 80-acre farm in rural Texas. Each married and gave their parents a total of 20 grandchildren. Those cousins grew up around a large wooden table at my grandparent’s farm. A sturdy handmade bench held at least six of us at a time. We crowded close, never aware that this place, these people would hang in our memories for years to come.
The unspoken and never broken rule for serving required that the adults sat down at the table first. No buffets or filling the children’s plates first. My grandpa said grace as the adults sat at the table and the children stood close by. Kids ate after adults—no exceptions.
We would sometimes balk and whine that the best pieces of chicken were gone. Mostly, we laughed and happy that desserts never fell in short supply. Who needs chicken when you can have homemade pie, kolaches, and cookies?
Oh, grandma’s kolaches! The sticky prune filling in the kolaches, and the smell of rising dough that would waft across the house. My cousins and I have tried to replicate her recipe. Nothing compares to grandma’s version. Ours attempts resemble doughy bricks that sit in the pit of your stomach.
No one ever left hungry. We devoured fresh corn, crisp and sweet. The sauerkraut canned by my grandma found its way to every meal, well, not breakfast. Homemade bread slathered in freshly churned butter sopped up the smooth white gravy. No fancy cuisine or casseroles on this table. Only ordinary country cooking filled our stomachs and our hearts.
When the world seems like a vise closing around me, I close my eyes and remember. Those precious ordinary sights and sounds bring me peace.
I sustain myself with the love of family.
— Maya Angelou
The tradition continues…
As my children grew up, I wanted to replicate that experience. Dinner gave us time to stop the crazy world and enjoy simple moments together. With three children our lives bustled in a whirlwind of busyness.
Our daughter took ballet classes several days a week. The two boys had more than enough going on between friends, sports, and school work. My husband had his own business and worked long hours. Dinner was our time to come back home. To help us not forget who we were as a family and as individuals.
Now, don’t think this idyllic picture was always peaceful. Plenty of spilled milk and tears ruined an otherwise good meal. But more often, laughing, telling stories, and one-upping puns created the sweetest memories.
The stories are the best. Now, children grown, our grandchildren love to hear Poppy’s stories. They linger at the table long after the dishes have cleared to hear one more story. Their eyes bright, hanging on to each word, laughing, and begging, “Poppy, please one more, please.”
The laughter never spoils. Caring never turns moldy. Good stories get savored again and again.
Make memories the next time you sit together with friends or family.
“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
— Alex Haley
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