Since venturing out into the wider world I have found much joy, and sometimes comfort, in sitting down together around the dinner table. After such a rough, rough entry period my two happiest moments that next day were buying groceries at Aldi (oh the comfort of the familiar!) and then serving my family dinner and sitting down at one table to feast on food prepared by our own hands. It seemed to put all things that had gone awry back to rights.
|The kitchen was about the correct size for our 3 year old. She washed dishes to her hearts content.|
|But before dinner we made sure to have wine and cheese and bread. We were in France, after all.|
|Dinner and beauty can sooth much pain.|
I mean, foundationally, there’s the simple ability to provide sustenance for your little people. It doesn’t get much more basic then that. It took me almost no time (a couple of days only) to start feeling the stress and sorrow at knowing I couldn’t do anything to fill hungry bellies those first three days on the road (chaos and rushing being the culprits, not money or availability). Obviously, I do not equate our bad travel experience with true poverty or any such thing - that would be outrageous. I just mean to say that, even though the experience was short lived and was never dangerous, it was still a tremendously fulfilling moment to place a plate of their favorite food, hot and ready in front of them and then sit down together and be a family around a shared meal.
|Seats for everyone! Pasta! Smiles! Filled to the bursting!|
Every house we stayed in, except one, had a big enough table to seat us all. And every time we sat down around it and ate something (even if that something was fish sticks and frozen peas) I gave such thanks, "Bless us oh Lord, and THESE, THY GIFTS...". It remained, has remained, one of my greatest takeaways from being so far from home. If we can sit down together at a table and share a meal, then we are rich. If we can sit down together at a table and share a meal, then we are at home. Even if that table will only be home for a day or for a week or for 90 days.
|In Krakow, Poland - made it into our 9th country at this point. Pierogi and kielbasa was on the menu. Luckily that meal crossed the gap between old family favorite comfort food AND local cuisine.|
|In Bavaria, Germany we had two tables that seated all of us. Although this one was surprisingly tippy.|
|A feast of local desserts in Vienna while on the hunt for the famous Sacer Torte.|
|Also in Bavaria, Germany. This table was plenty big enough for us but the light was better in the morning as they trickled down from bed to have some morning cereal.|
Dinnertime has become even more of an anchor in my life during this wild travel then it consciously was before. My memories of childhood and adolescence center greatly around the dinner table though, if I think about it. Did my mom ever leave the kitchen?
I had a spy club. I kept notes in a notebook and kept track of comings and goings (some of which were very interesting in my drug-infested neighborhood in inner-city Detroit. If only the cops had my list of license plates they could have had a leg up on the crack-dealer’s main clientele. Had they been interested. Which they weren't). And I can assure you, spying on my mom was...predictable.
She was in the tiny kitchen that was covered in white-painted pegboard and lined with pots, pans and spoons hanging from the hooks. Just like her father’s tools had hung in his shed when she was growing up. He had his tools and now she had hers. She would be washing dishes using her specific system of one bowl of soapy water and one bowl of rinsing water. In the morning she was making pancakes. Every day - no cereal in the Kresta home. They were half whole wheat and half white flour, an adjusted recipe from the More With Less Cookbook. A Quaker-compiled cookbook that several of my contemporaries are familiar with because of our Baby Boomer mothers. There was one day that she tried to pass off buckwheat pancakes on us as if it was an exciting new addition to our breakfast repertoire. When we acted horrified at the first bite she chuckled and shrugged like she’d known all along that wasn’t going to work but hey - nothing ventured, nothing gained.
As for lunch, when I was somewhere in my early years of education I requested that she send me to school instead of being homeschooled. Knowing what I know now about the quality of the public schools in my neighborhood I’m sure that it wasn’t only high ideals that had inspired my mom to keep me home. When prodded a little further about my reasons for wanting to go to school down the street it was revealed that the driving force was my desire to have a lunch box and walk down the street. Since watching kids walk past the house with lunch boxes was the only first-hand experience I had of "school" I suppose it makes sense that I honed in on that as the thing I was missing out on by staying home. My mother obliged and packed me a sack lunch. I took my little brother’s hand and we walked around the block and returned home - brimming with purpose and importance.
Dinner time was, at least in my memory, sacrosanct. One of my first memories is playing on the floor of the kitchen, smelling meat sauce simmering on the stove, wondering why I suddenly felt SO hungry, and hearing the bong, bong, bong of NPR. Based on the house we lived in then I couldn’t have been more then 2, or a young 3. My best friend growing up recently told me that whenever she would be over to play for the day it seemed like there was no food anywhere (we were never ones to have snacks handy, whereas at her house there was a veritable bounty of Jello and crackers available on demand) but then at dinner time, out of thin air would appear a piping hot delicious meal. She always thought of my mom as a sort of magician (she wasn’t wrong).
She made amazing things too. Pekora - an Indian dish was our favorite Family Game Night meal. Many Battleship Destroyers sank while us captains feasted above on Pekora. She made a Peanut Tofu dish that I chose several times for my birthday dinner. And no, I don’t like tofu any more then you do. She was always trying things from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook. I found this book recently in a second-hand shop and thought I’d pick it up for the sake of nostalgia. After flipping through it a bit I realized just how out of my league this book is. I’ll be sticking to Betty Crocker.
I do not have any memories of running around in the evenings or eating out on a regular basis. Dinner was such a given. Mom would have dinner ready. To not have dinner ready or to scrounge around or eat in front of a tv with something out of a freezer was such a strange idea that when I became a mom and talked to other moms about menu planning and cooking I had to ask them, “What do you mean you don’t cook every night? What do you eat if you don't cook?” Well, it turns out that I grew up in very rarified air - as regards the dinner table.
As I grew older and had more outside evening engagements of my own and eventually moved out of the house my parents had dinner guests almost every night (the how and why being a little too long and complicated for this post). This was perhaps the highpoint of the Kresta Family Dinner Table. [Although, when we are all home for Christmas or summer and the table is crowded with my nieces and nephews and my children I’d be hard pressed to think of anything as better.] The food was amazing (I DON’T know how she did it. I really don’t.) and the talk was even better. Joyful, rowdy, interesting, and always engaging.
On the road (as we were) and far from home (as we are), the dinner table has been a place of refuge from the changing scenery. It’s where I most feel like we are still ourselves even though everything around us looks different day to day. It is my anchor. I am certain that this anchor was given to me through the service of my mother who laid the foundation with dinner after dinner after dinner. She set me up to recognize "home" in the gathering at table. May I give that same gift to my children.