When We Eat Together
“When we eat together, when we set out to do so deliberately, life is better, no matter what your circumstances.” Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc at Home
My mom recently told me she is in the winter of her life and then quickly followed with, “And you are in the fall of your life. Did you know that?” she reassuringly inserted. I quickly thought I don’t like winter. It’s cold, dark and where I live it’s long! I didn’t like thinking of her there – in the winter of her life. I wanted to be in the summer of my life and her to be in the fall of hers but that’s just not reality.
Throughout my life my mom Patti has always been my advocate, observing me from afar, offering up bits of wisdom – just enough to maintain her mother ship position as the primary provider of unconditional love, without being overbearing. Her Patti-isms, often imparted at the dinner table, range from, “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”, “Waste not, want not”, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” and, of course, a few very acceptable then, but now politically incorrect ones. She was a professional – a career woman who made her own way because she had to; at 30 years old she became a single mom with three kids and reentered the workforce. I never remember a day in her life when she complained about her circumstances. She always dressed for success and still does – a classy lady even into her late 70’s – the winter of her life.
Forty-three years ago, just before I turned 12, she married Dave, who absolutely adores her, and even more as time goes by. I am certain that the song lyrics, “I love you more today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow” were written just for them. (Ironically, they honeymooned in South Lake Tahoe, where I sit lakeside now as I write about her.) Just one kid shy of The Brady Bunch our blended families uprooted from Oregon in 1974 and relocated to the San Francisco East Bay area. At the time mom was a buyer for Safeway stores, at their then corporate headquarters in Fremont, California, where she eventually retired as head of inventory control after 35 years of dedicated service. She lived and breathed a stellar work ethic: up early, home late, all the while delegating household tasks and chores to keep both her sanity and order on the home front. In fact it was her organization and delegation that ultimately challenged me to cook – it was my aptitude and she encouraged it. “Teena will eat anything!” she used to say and I lived up to it.
It was standard operating procedure for her to come home from work and meet dad at the kitchen table. They’d open a bottle of wine and discuss their workdays ad nauseam before rounding us up for dinner. With five kids going in five different directions it was a miracle that, more often than not, we’d all manage to sit down as a family unit, however dysfunctional, and share a meal together. Even after working a ten-hour day she’d return home and, like a magnet, pull the family together around the table. Our weekday dinner table was George Jetson styled, round and bright white with white pedestal, swivel chairs and avocado green vinyl seats. It sat right next to a work-in-progress, wine label decoupage wall – a tribute to their new California wine habit triggered by, I’m sure, five teenagers living under the same roof simultaneously. The labels on the wall were lifted off of the good stuff from Napa since everyone who came to visit us wanted to go there, and even more after the famous 1976 Paris blind tastings (when the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and 1973 Stags Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon beat out French counterparts.) A few years later, when I had just turned 21, my mom invited me to join her and dad at a business wine luncheon on the lawn of Beringer Estates in Napa. One of the big food companies she worked with hosted the lunch. Mesmerized by the white linen, fresh flowers swaying in the soft breeze, polished crystal wine glasses, and my first real food and wine pairing, I fell in love with the wine and food lifestyle that day.
Regardless of her work commitments mom practiced the gift of hospitality well – new faces showed up at our dinner table weekly, especially the businessman traveling alone without his family or someone who’d lost their spouse or new acquaintances. Anyone who knows her and dad are in awe at how naturally and seemingly effortlessly they entertain together. Even now, and for the last several years, she gathers women in her community around her dining table every Tuesday and facilitates a bible study – sharing her faith in God that has guided her throughout her life. This gift of gathering people around the table has grown and keeps on giving even in the winter of her life.
I love the influence my mom’s life has on me. In fact, the more I reflect on this time in her life, winter actually seems like a beautiful time of year. I will be there soon enough and hope that her optimism, faith, and gift of hospitality go with me. Then, when she is in the heaven of her life, I’ll meet up with her again and we will eat together.
“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Hebrews 13:2