“It’s not, actually, strictly, about food for me. It’s about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another’s faces, listen to one another’s stories….. It happens when we enter the joy and sorrow of the people we love, and we join together at the table to feed one another and be fed, and while it’s not strictly about food, it doesn’t happen without it. Food is the starting point, the common ground…..”
As the doors to the fellowship hall open, I am hit by the aroma of casseroles, stews, and lasagnas that lay steaming on the long banquet style table in front of me and my mouth begins to water. I wait my turn in line, listening to the conversations going on around me. I hear Bill tease Megan about Tayler being her bodyguard. In the midst of everyone reconnecting after a long week, someone comes up behind me and places a hand on my lower back. I turn and find Ivadelle standing behind me beaming from ear to ear under the wrinkles that line her face. She pulls me in for a hug and I have to squat in order to keep the hug from being uncomfortable. Despite her small size, she gives better hugs than anyone I know.
I turn to the table of food that lies before me and start to do quick calculations in my head; one spoonful of corn casserole, one piece of KFC chicken, and a dollop of Isabelle’s famous Jello salad. I glance further down the table and spot my great aunt Margaret carrying her bright orange Tupperware container with the white lid. That can only contain one thing: chocolate cake made from great grandma’s recipe with the homemade creamy icing. I squeeze a piece onto my overflowing plate and assume my seat at my regular table. The first few bites of the delicious foods flood me with memories of pot-lucks past.
My food-induced trance is broken when I am attacked by a forceful bear hug that only a six-year- old girl can muster. Jada looks up at me and giggles. She has always been my little shadow and sitting next to her, with her poofy pink dress and bouncing pigtails, reminds me of when I was her age. Back when coming to church was generally a boring affair. Sunday school was always really fun but the sermon always seemed to drag on for what felt like an eternity, especially if I didn’t have anything to colour. Back then the best part of coming to church, in my six year old estimation, was the awesome games of hide and seek in the church building’s numerous nooks and crannies.
The best place to hide in the whole building was the kitchen. It was always buzzing with activity during potlucks. After everyone had eaten, Lloyd, a man who was very quiet and delighted in scaring little girls out of their hiding place beneath the counter, would make his way towards the kitchen and assume his spot at the sink. No matter what crew was scheduled to take care of clean up, Lloyd would be in the thick of it, washing away and making witty remarks at the ladies bustling about the kitchen.
That was how it always went, we worked together as a community to get things accomplished. I often got stuck with the job of washing or drying tables after the meal and it always felt like a huge job especially when I was little and couldn’t reach the centre of the large wooden tables. But as I went around from table to table, I found it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I would wipe directly in front of me, as far as my little arms would reach and then one of the sweet old farmers would motion for me to toss them the rag so they could wipe the spots I missed.
The people in that room not only helped with little things, like washing tables, but they also played an important role in shaping me into the person I am today. They were some of the first people to cradle me in their arms after I was born. They taught me at Sunday school and acted as my earliest and most prominent role models. They became my grandpas and grandmas, my aunts and uncles, and they all treated me like one of their own children. It is that type of love and acceptance that embodies home for me. It molded and shaped me into who I am today. No matter where I find myself, I know that, in their friendship and love, I have a place to call home.