Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Faith Works 9-6-08
Jeff Gill

Sitting Down To Dinner

Last weekend, the Little Guy and I went to our local Farmer’s Market.

The Lovely Wife wanted us to bring home not the bacon, but some tomatoes, corn, and ideally green beans, too.

Unfortunately, we were slow to move, the Little Guy and I, so by the time we made our way down to the carts and tailgates, I feared that our preferred purchases would be out of stock, and only the gooseberry preserves and smashed loaves of banana bread would be left.

It wasn’t too late, as it turns out, and we made our way home with a hefty sack of locally grown, tasty and fresh produce, hitting all three appointed categories.

Back at Sycamore Lodge, I quickly started to snap off the stems, string, and rinse the green beans, tossing them in a pot of boiling water to blanch before setting them aside for a roasting over the coals in a foil envelope, a little later that night.

A dash of lemon juice, some olive oil, and thyme from the garden went into the packet, and a perfect batch of green beans came out.

And a smell. The smell of cooked green beans, hanging even outdoors on the patio, not too strong, but unmistakably cooked green beans.

One of my strongest memories of my maternal Grandmother is of green beans, picked in her vast garden (it seemed vast to me as a little guy myself), piled in bushel baskets, being methodically topped and strung and blanched. That smell in the kitchen takes me to a particular place and time, wherever it is now that I smell it.

That smell was in the air, and our dinner, with Market Day steaks and other elements my grandma would never have recognized, was still connected to those dinners, around the kitchen table in the house long gone from our family, a meal eaten long ago, but real and tasty in the midst of what we’re eating right now.

There is a sense that every meal participates in every other, that we set our tables echoing the model we grew up with (fork on the left or the right, how mom did it and not how Emily Post wants it), our recipes from great aunts and the stray uncle, and those preferences for salt our doctor dislikes and pepper dad put on everything and Tabasco we learned from the Marine Corps and Cholula we picked up from friends on a camping trip some years back.

This makes sense to Christians particularly, when a meal with bread and wine is said to have a direct, vital connection to a meal long ago, one we weren’t even in attendance at.

Every meal is connected to every other, as we all eat, and taste, and smell, and remember. The scent of blanching green beans makes my grandmother live in my kitchen, two states and more decades away. The communion around the dinner table of my family encompasses names and persons whose role at this feast is dim even to me, and my wife brings her own, and who knows what our son thinks about in his private moments (probably something about Pokemon).

Elijah’s chair doesn’t quite sit empty at our table, though we have unexpected guests from time to time. Yet there is a divine presence at our mealtime, the connection of age to age and the recollection of faces and relations, as well as where our sideboard and silverware comes from. That living link is a bit of God with us, fellowship hallowed and holy, made manifest by a scent both real and remembered.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your story of menus that bridge generations at