|Sharon Butler pulling things together...|
|The food table: above all the dishes was a clothesline where people hung their written-down memories and recipes.|
|In the middle of dinner...|
|The sky above it all...|
Last night, Bill and I and a bunch of other people attended a Food Memory Dinner at Sharon Butler and Karl Dye's house. It was Sharon's inspiration, and Bill and I helped out a little bit with the organization of it, along with writer Lorna Gentry. The whole evening was about nostalgia and how memories find fruition and even majesty through food. Guests were asked to bring dishes from some of their past family reunions, and Sharon and Karl's backyard was transformed into a dreamy stageset where everyone's dish was presented on a long table, and then after everyone filled their plates we all sat together at another long table, eating and talking, reminiscing. Sharon's email invite summed up the vision we all had while planning: Families come together to catch up on each other’s lives, and to share that inexplicably weird and wonderful family reunion food.
And that's exactly what happened. The summer sky was beautiful, the temperature perfect. It felt like being in a sophisticated, kind-hearted movie. At the end of the meal, I read a short story I wrote a while back called "What We Ate After Church," which described all the food I remembered when I was a kid when we would all go to my grandma's or aunt's house after church in Tennessee. Sharon and Karl had made a little stage at the back of the yard on the porch of a playhouse, so I set up shop there. The food being presented in "What We Ate" (fried chicken from an ex-KFC, tomatoes from the garden, corn on the cob, etc.) is the way the story moves: each dish the characters add to the table pushes the narrative forward, and reveals not just character but also scene and meaning. And that's what happened at the Food Memory dinner last night. After I read people started to come up to the "stage" and tell their food stories -- all of them interesting and interconnected, stories about all-day sauce simmering on the stove and bacon cooked out in the woods and polenta being stirred with a specially-made stick... Bill told a story about Raymond Thunder-Sky and his love of ribs, and it reminded me of how what we eat somehow becomes a way to let other people know about desires and wishes we often can't communicate any other way. Raymond, who didn't really speak that much, maybe 4 or 5 words a week if we were lucky, called us up one day and left a message on our answering machine: "Birthday," he said on the message. "Ribs."
So many wonderful sense memories and stories...
Thanks to Sharon and Karl, and to everyone who showed up...