I do not like to drive. I do not like crowds. I particularly don’t like driving in a crowded place. So a few weeks ago, when I had the brilliant idea to go to the opening of our Whole Foods grocery store here in Virginia Beach, I have to plead temporary insanity. I arrived at the store thirty minutes before it was scheduled to open, and the parking lot was already nearly full. I managed to pull into one of the only remaining parking slots and waited with a couple hundred others for the doors to open. When they did, it was so crowded that I could only move inch by inch around the inside perimeter, never making it down any of the aisles. It didn’t matter. I was in seventh heaven imagining what meals I was going to be able to put together with all the exciting choices Whole Foods has to offer.
Many people will say they eat to live. Maybe they even mean it, and it certainly is a healthy way to think about food. But I grew up in a family that lived to eat. Fortunately, and miraculously, none of us ever had a serious weight problem. My mother’s mother was a wonderful country cook. She made the best fried chicken I’ve ever had and served it with a mess of green beans the likes of which I’ve never been able to quite duplicate. She was one of the cooks in the employees’ cafeteria at Rikes, a large department store, now long gone, in Dayton, Ohio. When we would visit her in the summer, she would make a huge breakfast of bacon or country ham, eggs, potatoes, mile-high buttermilk biscuits and my grandfather’s beefsteak tomatoes. By the time we finally had the breakfast dishes washed, she was already starting on lunch preparations, and when lunch had been cleaned up, dinner was simmering on the stove.
My mother was also an excellent cook and could duplicate my grandmother’s dishes, including her pies and her fudge. But Mother kicked it up a notch with her signature dish of lobster Newberg. I guess I inherited my love of cooking and planning meals. In fact, many years ago, before I went into teaching, I was one of the cooks at a tea room in San Antonio. I still remember how to make many of their wonderful soups, quiches, and fabulous chicken salad.
Life has changed a lot for me since I retired and we left Texas. I have a much smaller kitchen, no children living close by, and far fewer friends. I don’t entertain much, and I miss hosting the holidays like I used to when it was common for us to have twenty-five over for Christmas dinner. Now I go to Daughter’s house for Thanksgiving and sons’ apartments for Christmas. I leave the planning to them now, as it should be. After all, eventually my mother had to hand over the cooking duties to me when I set up a home of my own and she and dad became the visitors. I never thought about her missing the cooking and the planning until recently, now that I am in her place.
But when I go to the library, more times than not, I come home with a stack of cookbooks I peruse, though I may not make a single recipe from them. And I will brave the crowds at a Whole Foods opening, knowing in my heart of hearts that someone else will be in charge of the menu at our next family gathering. That’s okay with me, because what it’s always been about, even so much more than the food, is just being together, sharing the food with each other, telling stories and catching up with each other’s lives.
That’s why last week, our Thanksgiving holiday with my daughter and her family in Michigan couldn’t have been more perfect. She had most of the meal catered so we could spend less time in the kitchen and more time snuggling on the couch during our Harry Potter movie marathon. Three generations, packed shoulder to shoulder for eight Harry Potter movies in six days. And yes, we ate our way through them with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and bowl after bowl of popcorn.