I’m most known for my food. It’s a sad but true thing. I try to love people by listening to them, picking up the phone when they call at 3am, and buying the perfect gifts, but most people learn that I love them because I make something with my hands that they’ve never put in their mouths before. And then, they just can’t get rid of me.
It’s something very simple for me to do. My first memories are those sappy kinds from family friendly 1990s movies where the light streams in through the tiny kitchen window and a little girl stands on a chair with flour in her hair and dusted on her clothes while she laughs with her grandmother. I remember pounding dough into pancakes, and sprinkling coffee cakes with cinnamon sugar goodness, and rolling homemade ravioli and pirogi onto my mom’s tiny island counter top. At the time, I didn’t know about Martha Stewart or hospitality ministries. Perfection wasn’t important. All I knew is there would be family at the table. And I knew food meant we were going to come together. And that was enough for me.
When I recreate these dishes, people ask me for these recipes, but I don’t know what to say. They’re in my head. In my blood. They’re a part of me. I’d have to take your hands and put them in mine, and pour the salt in them. Let you feel how the flour falls from my fingertips. But it is true that even I need a cookbook sometimes. It’s just mine aren’t usually from a Betty Crocker handbook. They look like these:
They’re recipes from the women who went before me. Recipes for things like hushpuppy fried chicken and homemade barbecue sauce; stained glass salad and copper pennies. They have notes in them on how to cook for five and how to cook for fifty, with the margins filled with simple multiplication math. The notebook one even has dates written in the columns, with little notations about how long it took to cook (done by 10 pm), and who showed up to bake. I want to cry when I read them. I often do. Because I’m not making something that’s my own, I’m cooking and baking so that people can feel history in their mouths and in their stomachs. They’re consuming the care and concern of decades of women who wanted to make people feel loved. Sometimes, I feel like I hear their voices beckoning me: stir the pot. Salt the water. Don’t let it go for too long….
Maybe that’s why I often cry when I take communion, too. Because I feel the community from all the saints who went before me and who join with me. I feel the prayers of the people worldwide, crying out for mercy and grace and forgiveness and peace and love. I feel the men and women who are trying to bring people together as a family. I cherish the meal that’s been prepared for me, reminding me that I’m a member of the family, and I’m deeply loved and wanted. I’m so welcomed into this spiritual home where I belong. I feel like I’m sitting at my aunt’s table in Kentucky again, wondering how she got the eggs, sausage, bacon, gravy, biscuits, and dozen other things on the table, hot, and ready for us to share with one stove, no microwaves, and 40 people to cook breakfast for.
When I take communion, I feel he countless bowls of summer spaghetti with Dago Red wine, and dozens of pork and mutton sandwiches, slow cooked in the ground for days, rumble in my stomach, reminding me to take my time. Make it right. Make a memory. Let people know that they matter. And remember that you matter.
When I take communion, I’m coming to a table that lets me linger and allows for mid-meal slouches. It drips with carefree timelessness and space to talk – to laugh — to cry — to remember.
That’s what the table offers.
Take your time. Drink it in. Let it matter.