If I survive, I will spend my whole life at the oven door seeing that no one is denied bread and, so as to give a lesson of charity, especially those who did not bring flour. ~Jose Marti
The pumpkins and maple leaves have been replaced by tinsel and angel wings. But there is still thanksgiving in my heart. It was born on logging trails in East Texas this past week, as I searched for tiny treasures of pinecones and acorns with my sister-in-law and niece. Walking in the gentle rain under the towering trees, the kinship was palpable. It awoke in me the hunger for gatherings in the kitchen and long talks illuminated by a warm fire. That hunger is as much a part of who I am as the freckles haphazardly sprinkled on my nose.
It’s been more than a decade since you said your goodbyes, but your love still resonates like a church bell in my heart. And I wanted to take just a moment to say “thank you” for the lessons that you taught without ever saying a word. Though you considered yourself uneducated and unworthy, and scripture was at times “far too high-toned” for the Virginia girl who grew up on the farm and then struggled painfully in a deeply troubled marriage, your actions spoke – and still speak – truth. Now, you didn’t think much of them – you said you simply did what you saw your mom do time and time again. I am eternally grateful for the legacy.
Dirty shoes and spilled drinks, cracker crumbs and haphazard pillows on the sofa were badges of honor to you. They meant life was being lived – fully and loudly and with abandon. You loved laughter more than you loved a tidy home. You loved people more than things, and you knew moments were here and gone in a flash – you always knew the messy moments would still be easy to clean. Though your eyes may have grown wide when you found me making a slip and slide in the front hallway or creating a cake made of soup and cornmeal, you never made me feel silly for spreading the wings of my imagination.
Everyone was welcome in the kitchen. There was always something to be stirred, chopped, baked, or sampled. The smallest helper would be given a chair on which to stand, and the most feeble assistant would be given a chair for comfort. There were no pre-requisites to helping, no training needed to participate. If someone did something differently than you, you embraced it. You offered all the instruction necessary, and offered a listening ear as well. You just knew that when hands are given something to do, heads are free to think and feel, mouths are free to speak.
No one was too bad – or too good – to sit at your table. Not one was turned away. You let me dine with doctors and prostitutes, politicians and preachers. I shared steaks with country singers and desserts with hitmen. All were welcome. All were made to feel like family. You somehow knew that all were broken in their own way – just like you.
Conversations were more about “how are you” and less about “how I am.” You could talk for hours without ever comparing, ever competing, ever shifting the focus to yourself. You could look at a face and see the story inside, just wanting to be told. You knew there would be time to tell your story. Because that’s how conversations go…they wind and bend and move back and forth like a gravel road until the words mingle and settle like dust on all those who have been fortunate enough to take the journey. Those journeys could last into the wee hours of the morning. There was never a rush to see them end.
The table was more than a place to eat breakfast in your home. It was the safe place to whisper dreams, weep, laugh out loud, disagree and reconcile. There was something about the kitchen table that begged for those who sat at it to rest their feet in the chairs on the other side, and I couldn’t wait until I was tall enough to follow suit – to find the joy in the resting. I still do that, you know – when I find a place that feels like home. I rest.
And that rest is what I pray people find when they walk into my home. I pray my door will always be open, the kitchen will always welcome, the table will invite conversation, and the conversations will be beautiful journeys that aren’t in a rush to end. I pray to pass those treasures – treasures every bit as beautiful as pinecones and acorns and gentle rain on logging roads – to all who enter. I pray the legacy continues.
Who do you need to thank today?