Sunday, February 12, 2012

a shared table


     The most satisfying meals that I have ever shared with family or friends weren’t the special occasions at upscale restaurants, nor were they around elegant dining room tables where we managed to consume way too much rich food either. 

     The dinners that have left the fondest memories were partaken in love, sincere hospitality and enriching conversation-sometimes in unusual circumstances.

     The first meal that my then future husband cooked for me at his bachelor pad was a risk on his part to say the least. Although he was an accomplished cook thanks to my wise mother-in-law’s early training, he decided to surprise me with a venison stroganoff not aware if I was into eating wild game. 

      Fortunately for our relationship I was open for trying new delicacies, and the meal was outstanding. He used an empty wine bottle to hold the candle so reminiscent of past college days, and set the table with the only two matching dishes he owned, which I later discovered upon taking inventory of his cupboards. Oddly enough, today neither of us can recall the actual table that he had at the time, but it doesn’t really matter. 

     A couple summers ago I was at a rural church yard sale and spotted a well-used dining room table probably over one hundred years old. The dark wooden surface was pitted with scratches and marks from a good long life.  It was a sensible circular table with all sorts of character running down its plain legs. My index finger caught in a deep groove, and I unconsciously moved it back and forth.  

      A rush of sadness came over me. The table was a living history of a family's life-all the tears shed and the joys announced throughout the years. The conversations around the table were all but whispers in the wind I thought. I put my ear to the oak in hope that I would hear the voices of the past. 

     Once when our camping group stopped near Easton, Maine, before crossing to Canada, we bought fresh lobster off a fisherman parked right near our campsite. We spread newspaper on the picnic table, brought out bowls of melted butter and ate a feast that was truly mouthwatering. There with so much laughter late into the evening holding us together that we cleaned up by flashlight. Whenever I have a pricey lobster dinner I recall that impromptu dinner on the trip to Nova Scotia.

     A close friend of ours passed away recently, and I remember that the last time we were together was at a picnic hosted by a gracious person. It wasn't a fancy setting either, because several outside tables of uneven heights and shapes were pushed together with all the lawn chairs that could be scrounged to accommodate everyone. The assortment of food was outstanding, and there was enough to feed an army.

     It was one of those relaxed meals where nobody was shy about taking second helpings either.  We spent a couple hours laughing and catching up with each other before going our separate ways not knowing that health issues would descend soon upon our beloved friend.

     It has been said that when you put the heads of two women together they will concoct a plan. What a mess my single sister and I got into when we conspired to get a couple work friends together for a blind date!  We spent hours on the phone plotting the meeting before we finally decided on a casual fishing date for them overlooking the fact that my friend wasn’t much of an outdoors person. 

     The weekend arrived and we drove to Boston. My sister cooked a fancy meal expecting fresh fish for the main course when the couple returned later. Her cramped third floor apartment with no air conditioning to overcome the scorching heat pouring from the oven was a challenge. 

     In her comfortable way that she would became so good at in later life, she set up a card table, put on a fancy cloth from dad's linen store and arranged a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers. She had that artist's knack for decorating and making a table elegant without expensive dinnerware. 

     The couple came back with several puny fish. Thank goodness for small favors because we each would have several bites, although the arranged date hadn’t caught on at all. The guy left as quickly as he could after the meal in a true catch and release fashion. All was not lost, however, as three single girls and a bottle of wine at the table finished the evening. 

     I recollect huge family clambakes on Long Island Sound where as I young child I could barely view the other end of the long makeshift table balanced on sawhorses, but I heard bits and pieces of chatter. Cousins upon cousins that I only saw in the summer were there, and it was one story after another depending on who could outshout the others to get the floor. Rumor has it that the younger generation wants to start up the family tradition again this coming summer, and thanks to all their connections on Facebook, they will no doubt make it happen.

     What really matters in the long run of life is that people coming together briefly for a meal are in loving harmony with one another, and make the most of the moment at hand.