|"Grace," a photo taken by Eric Enstrom in 1918, the year my Grandma B. was born. |
This image hung, always, in my Shafer grandparents' living room.
Still half asleep, I buckle Baby Charleigh into her chair and skirt around the bar, for forks.
"Mommy," Clementine insists, "Hands. Pray." But before I settle at the table, she grows impatient: slaps her hands together, bows, and offers, "God. Food. Amen." She dives into my beloved's biscuits and gravy, exclaims, "Yummy, Mommy. Delicious."
I know she speaks truth about my beloved's sausage gravy, which I wrote into my wedding vows for its excellence, but I marvel that--at barely two years old--she has already reached the point of prayer and praise. She stopped drinking from my body only ten months ago.
I get stuck there, for a moment, and (although of course I can't remember) think of my twenty-one-year-old mother's nursing me even while driving her baby-blue Volkswagen Beetle. I have spent, already, thirty-four months loving my children in this way: nursing all day and night until my mouth grows dry and sometimes the sockets of my eyes, too...flopping from side to side like a fish in my bed so as to nurse from the fuller breast. So much love in feeding, in being fed.
I think of my grandad--just returned from his garden of sun-kissed strawberries--stirring real Hershey's syrup (not Nesquik, like at our house) into my glass of milk. Rich dark syrup in a real glass (not a plastic cup, like at our house). I can see the rise and fall of syrup in the bottom, catch glimpses of spoon, hear the quiet bell in silver meeting glass. I see my grandma slathering one slice of fresh, white bread with peanut butter and another with Marshmallow Fluff.
I think of my other grandparents, too: Grandma of ice cream (always) in the freezer...standing at the stove, scrambling eggs with sharp cheddar, Grandad with his endless supply of bananas and sunflower seeds.
It comes to me how deeply I have loved and been loved in the sharing of food.
(I am not a thin woman.)
It pleases me to remember my dad (who requires cast-iron for happy cooking) and his adding, generously, tomatoes to eggs in skillet: to think of his amazing dutch-oven creations. I see--baked by my mother's hands--one applesauce-raisin cake after another: an endless line of them to represent all my birthdays, graduations, homecomings, and new babies. Also heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink icing.
My loved ones become food. My brother: deer jerky, IBC Root Beer, Big League Chew, Swedish Fish, a cheeseball with crackers. His wife Sarah: homemade biscuits, and Sarah's mom: green beans cooked in bacon grease. Andrea: smoothies, Wheat Thins. My mother-in-law: broccoli casserole, and my brother-in-law: barbeque sauce. Erin S.: Papa John's ham and pineapple pizza with breadsticks and banana peppers. Erin Q.: Maryland Blue crabs and Beanie Weenies straight out the can. Rachel: peach cobbler, chicken ring of crescent rolls. Christy: apple bread and a little bowl made from bread and filled with dip. Terye: fondue and turnip greens with little cups of vinegar. Carlena: chili from Steak and Shake; fried potatoes, butter beans, and corn bread; El Azteca. Boggsies: hambugers in buns, in bags. Virginia Ann: plate after plate of deviled eggs. I could go on and on, for a very long time.
At almost thirty-seven years of age, I rarely eat any kind of food to which I have not already assigned a memory.
I think of those who, six months ago, brought food to our door in celebration of Charleigh's arrival. Such a labor of love, to feed a family of five for a month. I think of the friend who glowed as--even in the midst of a tremendous battle for her health--she made three separate trips to her car for food: gigantic containers of delicious, steaming food, enough food to eat for three nights in a row. I think of the friend who fed us when we knew she couldn't afford to do so. We chewed slowly (and with deep appreciation, the deepest) her offering and wondered if she had food to eat, herself.
To feed, to be fed. I have never gone hungry, and I thank you, Lord, for Your provision and all the love represented in a lifetime of consumption.
Out of gratefulness, I have taught my son to pray, at dinnertime: Thank you, God, for our food...for rest, and home, and all things good. For wind, and rain, and sun above. But most of all for those we love. Amen.
Amen, and amen. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.