“Fondest memories are made when gathered around the table.”
A quote affixed to the wall over my kitchen table. It was there when our family moved in and I have never changed it. It is true and while I enjoy cooking for those who want to sit at our table, it isn’t really just about the fare.
In a group recently, everyone was asked to relate an experience of a meal that was special and the story of why that experience was meaningful. What followed was extraordinary. Each narrative was distinctively filled with meaning and shared an amazing experience where the cuisine was secondary to the uniqueness of the memory.
The Ingredients of Relationship
There was grandmother’s special recipe handed down. Every time it is made, the memories of the love from that relationship are tangible. The first elegant meal one woman had ever made that became known in her family as the “catch a husband” dinner. Finding recipes and calling sisters and friends to decipher what was pork loin roast and how does a one possibly butterfly a piece of meat? The food came out beautifully but it was the shared journey with friends and the accomplishment at the start of a budding relationship that led to marriage emerging as a milestone moment. Another woman shared about gardening with her husband over the summer months and the time spent growing, harvesting, making and freezing tomato soup. This winter, every bite will be like a burst of summer - a season of togetherness and joy. Another recalled a night from many years ago when in college, friends were snowed in at a restaurant in New York City. Not realizing, or maybe it was unimportant, the staff plied the group with food and drink free of charge all night. Maybe most surprising is that it is even remembered!
Stories Cultivate Connection
Each story gave me deeper insight into the meaning of a meal. While food provides physical sustenance for sure, each story was more about connection than calories. With a family member, a group, or a friend, the power of the meal was so much more of the emotion shared than necessarily the food itself.
Living in a society which appears more contentious and fragmented than agreeable and unified, I do not meet many people who are looking forward to the upcoming Thanksgiving gatherings. Since all families are dysfunctional, how do some manage it better than others? Part of it is respect for individual and shared experiences. Sitting down to a meal and depicting the stories, the emotions and the meaning intrinsically found in a significant recollection. Practicing the art of conversation that begins with listening and seeking to understand. Connecting beyond what is on the menu imbues a richness that is not soon forgotten.
A Repast to Remember
On that notable evening, one mom related the story of returning home to a meal of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. It was the best meal she have ever tasted. Before you judge her palette as undeveloped, there was more to the story. Her son had worked hard to figure out how to create this meal all by himself. A teen looking for independence and struggling to figure out where he fits in this world like everyone his age, he was gifted with special needs from birth and a warrior mom who has fought for him every step of the way. Spending years thinking she could fix him, she came to understand that what he needed was guidance, encouragement and love. Years invested in this relationship yielded the fruit of independence, resourcefulness and creativity. Nothing had ever tasted so good. There was also the bonus that as she says, “This momma don’t cook” so coming home to a meal prepared was a delight. What may be lacking in culinary skills is more than made up for in connection.
So this week as you gather around the table, create some new connection over old memories. Ask for a story and then share one. It cultivates hope. Everyday.