The other evening I had prepared a feast for my family to celebrate our Irish heritage. It was especially challenging to navigate on a weeknight. Weekends full on both ends of the holiday, I decided to meet it head on and prepare a meal that we would share with my grandparents in the middle of the week. As I planned, visions of a large, multi-generational family gathered together asking the Lord’s blessing over a shared meal filled my head.
I spent several days preparing the sponge starter for homemade rye bread, one of my favorite food traditions. My workday over in the early afternoon, I put the six pound corned beef brisket into the roaster, washed the cabbage and potatoes and chopped the onions. Self-satisfied that I was ahead of the game, I grabbed my keys to head out the door for a few quick errands. I was confident that everything was going according to my carefully planned schedule.
In the midst of my errands, I got a text from my son that read, “Fire up the grill mom, we’re having salmon for dinner!” His boss had loaned him out for the day as an extra set of hands at a local company that harvests freshwater salmon. Knowing it is a favorite shared between mother and son, he was excited to have been given some of the Norwegian Atlantic salmon fillets to bring home in thanks for his efforts. I tried not to think of the humongous slab of corned beef, roasting to perfection in my kitchen at home.
My grandparents arrived shortly after I returned. I whipped up a quick marinade for the salmon that I found on Pinterest and was happy to find all the ingredients in my pantry. I got my grandfather the required cup of coffee while making conversation and scurrying around the kitchen in an effort to finish the meal. I wrapped the loaf of rye bread in foil and put it in the oven to warm while I chopped cabbage into large ribbons that would roast on top of the brisket for the last half hour or so and then fired up the grill for the impromptu salmon entrée.
My younger daughter and her fiancé came in an hour later and shortly before dinner, my oldest daughter texted to say she had gotten a new phone and was going to “FaceTime” me in a few minutes, something we had been unable to do for some time. I was busy. The timing was not great, but the opportunity to see my daughter and granddaughter who live thousands of miles away was not one I would decline. When FaceTime started to chime, we all excitedly gathered around my iPad. Everyone took a turn while I went back and forth between the stove and the grill, playing peek-a-boo as I passed with my grandbaby.
My husband arrived home to mass chaos. Both dogs started barking and asking for his attention. Steam from mashed potatoes made the room humid. All of the hungry people gathering made it noisy and crowded. I put some to work setting the table and others to making sure everyone had a drink. The corned beef carved beautifully and put on our green trimmed china in the middle of the week made our holiday meal feel special. Bowls full of veggies and plates of warmed bread passed, it was finally time for dinner.
As I made my way to my seat at the table, I saw next to my plate an old, chipped up, Big-Gulp sized plastic cup beside my china plate. It was full of more iced tea than I would drink at a week’s worth of dinners in a cup that was not a suitable companion for our fine china. Looking at that cup, I realized that so many times in life, I am distracted by the thing that is mismatched and isn’t the part of the perfect picture I have in my mind – and miss out on the joy that should come from such a blessed life. I ate heartily and drank deeply from that chipped cup that night.
In my mind, I had pictured a family dinner on Walton’s Mountain. I imagined our extended family sitting calmly around a table, politely passing the potatoes and waiting for one person to speak before another takes his turn. In our home, the chaos and noise were because of the beautiful family together around the table and sharing a delicious meal of which there was more than enough for everyone. We may not be the Waltons, but that messy, noisy chaos is beautiful to me and far, far better than the picture in my head.
Photo Credit: Photos by Todd Quckenbush, graphic design by Charity Klicka.