There is never ever a plan. But does it matter?
A cavernous, empty pot sits on the stove, it’s gaping mouth almost crying out to be filled. But, ah, with what? A flash of the knife, a bloom of blue flame and suddenly it begins! I’ve a sizzling swirl of mirepoix, fancy French for plain old onions and carrots and celery. A spirited rummage through the cupboard: Kale or cabbage? Crushed tomatoes or cubed potatoes? Barley or farro or pasta or rice? Zucchini or beans or chicken or beef? A dollop of hot sauce or sprinkle of cheese? It matters not. No matter what, no matter how, I will stir up my pot to make, as the Mock Turtle blissfully intones, “Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”
The dreamy scent wafts through the kitchen, curls around the hallway, up the stairs and down. Oh please, let them fly and float through the air to me like the etherial lovers from a Chagall!
I promise there will be enough for everyone. The door opens.
My Great Grandma Rachel Leah, 1962
She comes down the stairs sideways oh so slowly, clutching the railing with both hands, her face contorted with the effort. It’s so hard for her to walk but she is insistent and determined she will do this, step by laborious step. Then finally a sigh and a settle into her chair. No one can keep her away. No one would. She sees me and her body relaxes, her arms unfurl. In a moment I am relaxing, melting into her lap. As she strokes my hair I can feel the knots in her fingers. I twist to see her face. She is smiling. Her eyes are the simply softest brown.
My Little Gram, 1971
Not a whisper, not a word! We know to tiptoe, how to pull the door shut with only the tiniest woosh and never a slam. It’s just us, the early risers! We creep into the car and drive stealthy, squinting into the early morning sunshine. We are on a dual mission, to find both the Sunday papers and the bags of hot bagels. Neither of us knows which we love more, to eat or to read. Don’t make us choose!
My Grandpa Lou, 1960
He is tired. He works so very hard. And it’s been such a long day. Even so still he walks through the door with the confident stride of a natural athlete. Although his dark curls are receding back from his forehead, his jaw is still so strong, his gaze direct and searching. Before he has his dinner, before he even takes off his coat, he digs into his pockets and pulls up fistfuls of coins: Roosevelt dimes, Indian Head nickels, Lincoln pennies, some of them still made of World War II steel. The coins are for me. Every night my Grandpa Lou showers his pocket change into my bank for my future.
My Bubbe Slava, 1961
Adored by my Dad, your grandson. Adored by my Mom, his young wife. It was said you were beloved by everyone who ever knew you. So missed by them, and so too then, by me.
My Grandma and Papa, 1968
Chest puffed out proudly, hands on hips, the Superman of Lauder Avenue rises from his chair to greet us. Calm and controlled, the master of the living room. Clothes perfectly pressed. A clatter from the kitchen and he is joined by my grandmother, perspiring and wrinkled and aproned, hair flyaway. He bestows a regal kiss on each of our foreheads. She squeezes us into the tightest of hugs. At dinner he sits at the head of the table and waits to be served. At dinner, she is always on her feet and is constantly serving. And yet when she presents him with his plate, meat, vegetables, potatoes just so, their eyes lock, just for a moment. Did you catch it? They love each other so.
My Aunt Bess and My Aunt Rose and My Cousin Marty, 1972
Sit with us, talk with us, be with us! Around the table, around the living room, glance to glance, phrase to phrase, heart to heart. Around and around we are forever warmed. We never get our fill.
My In-Laws, Lillian and David, 1988
It is the most elegant of places, delicate chandeliers giving off a muted, almost viscous light, the silverware arrayed with the precision of a marching band, flanking a platter of the purest white. Yet in this impressive place I am the one who is meant to impress. You sit beside me eagerly, your words reaching out yearningly across the table to the almost impassive couple across from us. I feel as if they only have eyes for you, their boy. While my smile is calm my hands are not, as under the table I am twisting my napkin into a harsh knotty rope. But when I get up for a moment to leave the table, I take a quick glance back. Your father is grinning. He gives you two thumbs up. And satisfied, your mother smiles and nods in agreement.
Come back to us, please, come sit at the table! Of course there is room. Can you see, can you smell, I have made the soup? You’ll know us, here are my sisters, one with armloads of daffodils, the other holding aloft a tray of the most exquisite cakes. Our husbands, strong and kind and good are here with us, as well as all of our funny, kind and wonderful sons and daughters, nephews and nieces. At the head of the table is our Mother, ever solicitous, chooser of the most perfect presents. Dad, still the clever jokester, remains at her side.
Waiting expectantly too are Shayna and Sam, Rorschach and Roscoe, Charlotte and Tina, dearest Golda, sweet Cody and ever so intelligent Jess. Overseeing it all of course is Big Nick, large, orange and masterfully in charge. They do not wait for scraps. As befits all of the beloved, full plates for all.
To all those we love, to all we so miss. You are cherished. Come try the soup. Come to the table. There is, and always will be, a place set for you.
Photo: My Little Gram, Ann Venitsky Chudler