HumankindNESS

By Jennifer Richardson
I was standing at the stove the other day to begin a batch of deviled eggs. As I carefully placed the eggs in the pan of water I smiled at the memory of being asked to make deviled eggs for a family get-together. My father hosted a meal for my mom on Mother’s Day. Everyone contributed, I brought my deviled eggs, my dad grilled burgers, and our family ate lunch on my parents’ spacious front porch. I enjoyed knowing that people looked forward to something I had prepared.

Working in the kitchen to prep my eggs, my mind wandered from the taking-forever-to-boil water to the other family dinners I have attended over the years.

My mother Nancy, as some of you may know, is a family dinner aficionado. My life has been happily punctuated by her fabulous food and her legendary kindness. Her home has been the site of countless family meals, and she has impacted generations with her commitment to service and shining example of hospitality.

The Franklin dinner on my granny’s side of the family always packed the place. Every year, the day after Christmas there was a gathering to reconnect with the extended families of all ten children in my maternal grandmother’s family.

And I have fond memories of attending the Hollingsworth reunion for my father’s side. Held in a park for a few years, we could count on the weather and the conversation to be warm, and Grandma Kate’s potato salad being reason enough to attend.

It was at this event that I spent time with my great uncle who could hammer a nail through a piece of wood with the side of his palm. The great nieces and nephews asked him to demonstrate often; we were impressed every time. He also had one leg that was three times the width of the other leg because it was swollen and filled with shrapnel from a war injury. He was patient with us, and we found him fascinating.

The annual Hallowell reunion was held for years in a state park pavilion and included several generations of my husband’s family. We enjoyed great food, and everyone looked forward to dishes like Grandma Betty’s noodles.

I remember the years of counting down the hours until I saw my cool cousins again. And the years we all got together at the lake and swam in the muddy brown water until our skin wrinkled and it was time for another meal.

My maternal grandfather was a farmer and an honorable man. He loved his wife and family, worked hard, and was the only grandfather I ever knew. When he passed away my eighth grade year I did not yet recognize that most of my understanding and memories of him would be from family dinners. In retrospect, I treasure those hours in his company.

Family dinners have provided the opportunity for me to see my own nieces and nephews travel the journey from infancy to adulthood. It is amazing to watch their lives take shape, and I am now watching with joy as they marry and start their own traditions.

And I have certainly enjoyed the holiday traditions and dinners we have hosted in our own home over the years. However, I experience a bit of sadness when I realize that we have fewer extended family dinners than we once had. It seems that people are not as interested in getting together anymore.

Perhaps the planning is too hard, or the work is too much. Or having people in our homes is not as common. Or our lives are more about ourselves and less about extended family. Maybe we are just so busy with everything that having a family dinner is the last thing on the list.

Why do we have family dinners? When I look back in my life, I see all the things family dinners gave me. There was the great food, and the touching base, the excitement of travel, and the fun of hanging out and catching up. There was the opportunity to understand where I came from and listening to the voices and stories that described my mom and dad before they became my parents.

But deeper than that, was the solidity and security of tradition. The feeling of belonging, and the trust that there were others related to me that wanted to know me. And the connections between generations that only time together will forge.

There is a footing built beneath our lives when value is placed on time spent in each other’s company. It is a foundation we generally do not realize we are constructing until long after we recognize our need for it.

If the torch passes to you, run with it. If you have a family dinner tradition, keep it alive and well. If you don’t, you can start your own. Fire up the stove and start a batch of deviled eggs, or prepare your signature dish, or run through fast food and pick up fried chicken. Whatever it takes.

Preserving the tradition of family dinners builds a foundation that many will stand on, for our lifetimes, and generations after.

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