cook, talk, laugh, eat

I’m up before the alarm, that I turned off last night, would have sounded and ready to . . . back in some old day, I would be . . . um, I wonder how far back I should be going to say what I mean to say today.  This is the traditional time of gathering beloved souls together for cooking and eating and hopefully taking a walk before falling asleep in front of some movie on a cushy couch.  And this time has been hard won.

I cast the net far enough back to state that my mother’s traditions did not fit me well; and during our East Village days with baby Cheshire in tow, we started to cook for ourselves and our friends. Cooking and talking and laughing and eating.  Sometimes too many people crowded into our tiny apartment on First Avenue and sometimes we all went to Park Slope and celebrated in Carolina and David’s sprawling apartment.  On a marble topped coffee table with one chip out of the wood frill frame, Carolina served glorious antipasto and David made margaritas.  And we got to the turkey much later.  Cooking and talking and laughing and eating. 

And sometime after we had settled in Indy, we started our annual trek to Maryland to celebrate at Lisa and Nick’s work-in-progress farm house.  Our homes were always works-in-progress in those years. No matter if the oven was wonky or the fridge was too small to hold everything we bought for the feast, it was glorious.  Cooking and talking and laughing and eating.

A year or two before Julia came home, during a Maryland celebration, Carolina’s David asked if we noticed any changes in Carolina after a somewhat confusing game of Apples-to-apples. Now, I recall it as a straight line from that that conversation to Carolina’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but the journey was anything but straight for them and for her David. 

And then there was the year, waiting for David’s new heart, a time that I see now as the bravest time in our lives but as we were just day-to-day living it, there was such an ordinariness to it.  The earth would soon quake and everything would change, but that year people came to our house in Madison and we set up tables in the living room to cook and talk and laugh and eat.  And I remember the light as golden and every one of us as very beautiful.

And then the first years after David died, when Julia and I traveled from Madison and Cheshire from NYC, to cook and talk and laugh and eat as we burrowed deep into the hearts of our chosen family in Maryland. My eyes popping open this morning and myself very willing to jump out of bed is a throwback to those years of spending a week with friends who could give me a taste of what living meant when nothing else could.  Lisa would save the grocery shopping until I arrived so we could do it together and we would rise with the sun on Thanksgiving morning to get the big turkey stuffed and into the oven in the hope that we would sit down to eat before the sun set.  And through that time, which could touch on such sadness, we did cook and talk and laugh and eat.  More so with every passing year.

But those times too came to an end with a long, loving friendship left in tatters and spirits too strained to do anything to put it back together. And although it is not absolutely true, since that time, I’ve grieved the loss of what felt like all the traditions of my life, aware that those traditions never dated very far back and as traditions go, they morphed and all but disappeared over the years and then somewhat reliably re-appeared in some altered form.  This year is no departure from what has always been but I did not know that until I began this writing.

This year.  This year is surprising in ways I did not expect.  Well, that is how “surprise” is defined, right?  If it was all expected . . . no surprise.  This year, two people I didn’t know this day last time round the sun have borrowed into my heart—one will be at his very first holiday celebration, although hopefully dinner will be timed to coincide with his nap and the other, the VNM (“Very Nice Man”) met during summer and still interested and interesting through this fall, will be cooking for the gathering in Plymouth for the National Day of Mourning. 

Yesterday, Julia and I helped a small bit with the preparations for that feast and then visited with his family and then came home to a fire in the fireplace that I will give up when I move house. Very soon, I’ll cook my small contribution to the feast we will enjoy with Cheshire and Justin, his parents and aunt and uncle in Nashua. Justin’s mom, Judy, will cook most of the lovely meal.  I will feel a little guilty for not doing more.  Maybe there will be a pumpkin cocktail like there was last year.  And the year before?  

And the thought of a reoccurring cocktail, such a silly thing, brings on an awareness of the possibility that I am living with and into this version of tradition.

I hold such gratitude for things done before and for the people with whom we do those things. I hold gratitude for the people who have become family and for the promise of adding a few more to the clan.  I hold gratitude for the VNM who texts “good morning” and asks about my day before he leaves for Plymouth, and for the little boy whose smiles I will coax from him as soon as I get to Nashua.

And perhaps I hold the most gratitude for everyone who and every place which was and is and will become so known and recognized as to become traditions of my life.  The journey has been long and how fortunate I am to be able to be deeply thankful for today knowing full sure that there will be cooking and talking and laughing and eating with some, but not all, of my beloved souls.

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