Since the the time man started to form groups, they gathered around a fire. When mankind evolved and social units then became families, they gathered around primitive tables. As larger societies formed, the most convenient vehicle for bonding with someone outside the family was an invitation to share food, drink, and the best efforts of the family in their home and at their table.
The family table has been the historic center of not only our culture, but a shared experience with all of our human brothers and sisters.
In both Claudia’s and my own childhood experience, the table was a center of the family day. We shared meals cooked by our over-stretched mothers. Here we recounted the details of our singularly important day, albeit only to us, to our bored siblings and seemingly enthralled parents. We enjoyed food that was both culturally specific, and at times expeditious to the sustenance provider.
The table offered us food, withstood the weight of our text books, stood up to the aggressive pounding of our competitive board games, and the heavy burden of our growth. Not too many tables today are made to the standards required of these wondrous activities. Few tables are awarded these cultural responsibilities by their owners.
Due to the passing of Claudia’s mother, Annette, I was drawn back to her family in Memphis. It has been 10 years since I have been to visit my wife’s family in Tennessee. On the flight down I tried to bring to mind the last time I saw many of the people I would soon come in contact with. A decade is a long time, and the last visit was a short one. I was greeted by men who when last I saw them were boys and then was introduced to their children. Distant relatives of Claudia were there and said they remembered me fondly, such is required by the deep politeness of Southern hospitality.
After the service the family gathered at a sister’s house, and by way of a loving neighbor and kind employer, we were sustained with a lasagna and cold meats and cheese. At that table family bonds were renewed and I was included as if I had been there all these years. Great interest was shown as to my lifestyle, the demands of the restaurants, and the health of my own family whom they have never met.
On the last night 10 of us gathered again at a family table and my gift to all was dinner. Over seared turbot, caramelized fennel risotto, seared lacinato kale and balsamic-blood orange gastrique, I offered them my best efforts. I was rewarded with a place in the family lore and was assured the dinner would be recounted at other family gatherings for those who could not attend.
I am reassured that we in the human family still have the need for connection, and the venue for that will always be at a table where there is good food and drink and lively conversation.
The inspiration for my writing was a sad occasion, a loved one has passed. Yet the laughter, the kisses, the deep hugs and stories that came from the gathering, as well as a sense of belonging on my part, will always be part of the occasion as well.
Please gather with those who matter. Whether at your home, at a friend’s or relative’s dining room, or table 22 at Republic on a Friday night. Share yourself along with the bounty that the seasons can provide. Try hard at your menu and so will I.
This is dedicated to the loving memory of Annette Rippee.
See you soon,