The past ten days have been full of family (hence the gap in posts!), and cooking, (and dishes!) and conversation.
That’s not something I’m generally used to (the family piece that is). Like many queers, I had to make my own family when I left home.
It’s a risky thing to do – the leaving, that is – especially when it’s an immigrant old-world community. You leave a part of yourself behind. Your family never forgives you. Mennonite poet Di Brandt wrote about her own leaving home: “You get blamed for everything but in exchange you’re granted a certain precarious outlaw freedom that is much admired and envied, as well as heartily punished.”
I have described it as being in exile.
But with age and the passing of time comes a kind of softness. My mother’s ninetieth decade confers a state of grace upon all of us. It is a gift.
Last weekend, parts of my family descended upon my city for a wedding. That also happened to be Thanksgiving weekend, so I offered to host the ritual dinner. A flurry of less-than-enthusiastic emails followed. (There’s still residual fear). I’ve never hosted a family dinner before. No one knew what to expect, least of all me.
My sister was the first to arrive, so off we went to St Lawrence Market, her to take photos as always, the camera part of her body, blinking as rapidly as her eyes, taking
everything in. I shopped frenetically: green and yellow beans, rye bread, herbs, and lovely things my ma could eat: Pates, dips, soft cheese.
My sister and I and The Girlfriend hung out that evening, fortifying ourselves with pan-seared salmon, green salad with beets and corn, and cherry tomatoes in fig-balsamic vinegar. And wine, of course. We have fun together. We laugh a lot, and do nothing extraordinary, except sit in a kitchen, being family.
The next few days were a blur of cooking and hanging out. I couldn’t mark, couldn’t write lectures; there was no way to multi-task. Time slowed down, in a gracious way. Between bouts of chopping and stirring my sister and I went for a walk in Dufferin Grove Park, warmed by a pale yellow antique light.
And them quite suddenly it seemed, my kitchen was full of family, friends and lover, and all of the aromas of Thanksgiving. I began hyperventilating. I took The Girlfriend aside. This. Is. A Very. Ambitious. Project. I said to her. What on earth was I thinking?
She laughed, and took me in her arms. I. Can’t. Believe. You. Only. Just. Figured. That. Out.
I served the first course, a smooth roasted cauliflower soup.
The table was too narrow. The wineglasses didn’t match. The turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and trimming were served, and everyone got quiet, digging in. A pot got burnt, wine got spilled. We ran out of mushroom sauce, so my brother had to go make some more. At first, no one knew what to talk about. But slowly, the conversation took a witty, then hilarious turn. Everyone got loosened up by dessert: a spicy pumpkin pie with whipped cream and maple ice wine on the side, provided by The Librarian and The Hair Dude.
My sister gave me the high five at the end of the evening. We. Did. It! she said.
My mother, more restrained, said only: That. Was. A. Very Nice. Dinner.
But I saw with my own eyes how much she loved being cooked for, how charmed she was by The Hair Dude. I saw a considerate and attentive side to my brother I’d never seen before. I saw The Librarian, whom I’ve known for fifteen years, take pleasure in meeting my mother for the first time.
The change in location, the funny mix of cultures and sexualities, created a warmth I’d never experienced before at a family dinner.
Sometimes you have to leave home, to come home.