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Love’s Labor


One of my brothers and his wife and kids are visiting this Labor Day weekend. They live in New York City, Brooklyn specifically, and don’t get down this way very often. They’re staying in a motel out near my parent’s house, so I don’t face the burden of entertaining houseguests. Not that I would object, but it does simplify matters in that my job during their visit is feeding them — specifically feeding them supper Friday and Sunday night. The food preparation plans have put me in a nostalgic mood.
Click to view larger versionI have two brothers and a sister. And inevitably there came a time when we had all left home and town, and family gatherings became harder. We held on to Christmas as long as we could, but first boyfriends and girlfriends interfered and then spouses replaced the girlfriends and boyfriends and getting everyone together for Christmas became impossible. So we found a solution: Memorial Day. It’s a holiday but no one competes for your presence at it and flights are easy to arrange and relatively cheap.
So we declared Memorial Day our family birthday party and for seven or eight years we gathered at my parents’ house every year to celebrate our family.
We’d sit around the pool and talk politics, cooking, books, our next meal, movies, great meals we’d had recently, the nature of the universe, and more cooking. During the course of the weekend we’d be joined by cousins and childhood friends who, though they weren’t all cooks, were all great eaters and drinkers. It was a weekend filled with stimulants to our palates, intellects, and philosophies.
But the food was the high point. We all loved food, loved cooking, and were willing to experiment. Despite different careers, living circumstances, and goals, cooking was the thing we all still had in common.
My mother loved to tell other women about those weekends of family and friends because they’d inevitably commiserate with her about all the cooking she’d have to do. Her response: “I don’t have to cook a thing. The kids do it all.” And do it we did.
We’d all take turns at preparing meals or dishes and the discussions about meal plans and recipes began a month in advance, causing our phone bills to peak as we coordinated. We’d fix things like lamb stuffed with roquefort and fresh mint, grilled Cornish hens, massive stratas for breakfast with local country ham, smoked turkey sandwiches, and smoked whole salmon. Beer, wine, and after-dinner libations flowed like oil: greasing the engine of our comradery.
Eventually, though, children came along and it became too difficult to gather the entire family together even on Memorial Day and so the tradition came to an end.
As I write this on the Wednesday before Labor Day, I’ve just picked up a Boston Butt (pork shoulder roast) that I’ll coat with a spice mixture (dry rub) and marinate overnight before smoking for around 12 hours over hickory wood on Thursday. This is true barbeque and we’ll pull it to pieces (pulled pork) and eat it Friday night along with local tomatoes and cucumbers — maybe potato salad as well if I get to it. Saturday my father is taking the crew to an emerald mine in the area to pan for emeralds and my mother will feed them something quick and easy that night. Then Sunday night I’m going to teach my nephews to make pizza, which should be fun.
There are lots of ways to enjoy a holiday. In this area spending time at one of the TVA lakes or camping in the mountains are particularly popular, but to my mind there is little more life-affirming than gathering with family and sharing food and company. All the better if the family shares in making the food, directly providing each other with nourishment. That’s nurturing.

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