A daughter texts: “I can’t wait to come home.”
Her mother replies: “Ah, that’s what I always felt about going home, until I got there….”
We come home to the people who raised us, loved us, fed us, and feed us still, in spirit, in memory, in flesh that is aging and weakening before our eyes. We see everything anew and acutely upon returning, with the wide-open vision of having gone ahead and attempted to forge a new way, an onward path. Sometimes the old ways are comforting upon return, often not.
We gather again at our tables, new tables, old tables. We make, or do not make, the foods of our childhood, and if not, we hope that Grandma will, if she sees, accept our loving sacrifice of having swallowed so much that wasn’t to our taste, will perhaps even admire us for making things better for ourselves, in a relatively unfreighted way denied to her.
We talk more freely, younger and older, not just men, but women and more, claiming opinions, beliefs we have worked to forge, to own, wanting to have a say in making a difference. And yet, we are wary, feel we must be, desiring easy community among those who have mattered to us, matter still, yet acknowledging blistering, blustering cross-currents of misunderstanding, miscommunication, cultural division and disconnection—all fanned by those in power who seek even greater power.
Still, we gather, and give thanks, manifesting the belief that in gathering, sharing food around a table—old or new—talking, celebrating what we have shared, might still share, we can find heartfulness and healing.
In our home, we do not do The Thanksgiving, the roasting of the turkey, the gravy-making. Far from family, we are invited, grateful, to an unimaginably iconic feast, hosted by a dear friend who loves to cook and prepares a sumptuous board with artistry, heart, and great good spirit. I carry to Newcastle what coals are allowed.
Two days later, I prepare a rump Thanksgiving in my home. This year, husband off to China for a big gig, mother-in-law newly relocated to town, beloved daughters briefly home, some of us still working off a beautiful food coma, some more enthusiastic feasters in quest of leftovers than others…, we share an afternoon of communal effort in turning out our favorite Thanksgiving dishes in a lower key, honoring both the effort and the awaited eating.
The calculations for any gathering around a table are many, delicate under best circumstances–a labor of love balanced with available energetic effort, filtered through ready resources and personnel, and, of course, the ultimate constellation of diners. To be able to choose what to serve, and to whom, to be so blessed that restraint is a choice, a goal even, rather than a constraint born of necessity, is unthinkable to much of the world, and to most of human history.
And I give thanks.
Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse