Josephine was my Italian grandmother who recently died at the age of 92. I remember her house always filled with the aroma from one of her best recipes: sauce simmering on the stove, a batch of meatballs being fried or fresh baked apple, lemon or blackberry pie. Few of her 11 grandchildren or even nine great-grandchildren had a First Communion, wedding or christening that didn't feature Gram's meatballs, cookies or our favorite treat.
The kitchen was where Gram lived. And in this kitchen is where she loved, laughed, yelled, cried, joked and hummed, all while baking, frying, boiling, basting, mixing, rolling dough, frosting, tasting and lastly eating -- although so many of my memories of holidays at her house do not have her sitting, but serving, then clearing, then bringing out more food!
I miss so many of her delicious treats, but what seems irreplaceable is what happened on the way to having a full belly: the creation of the relationship she had with each of us. She was good at cooking, but she was great at bringing people together and showing her love for us. No ever left Gram's house without a care package!
About six months ago, my grandmother began to show signs of memory loss. Once during dinner, she politely introduced me to my uncle. I think for us there was this awkward, even sad moment of recognition that her memory was failing.
But then something struck me -- less about what was missing in her memory, and more about what was still there -- her hospitality. This woman, who for her entire life had welcomed everyone into her home, was mixed up about where she was and who we were. Yet what mattered most was that her guests were acquainted with one another. She was remembering what mattered -- we were comfortable and happy and ready to eat.
My family has tried to gather her recipes, which she knew by heart. We want to be able to make the great treats she was known for. Good food is great -- good hospitality even better -- but a good woman, a woman of integrity, now that's the most important thing.
Gram believed after all our joys and sadnesses of life that we will be seated at the "heavenly banquet" that our creator has prepared for us. I am told that in her final moments here, she reached out toward someone or something.
I imagine that as she was leaving this life, she was actually reaching out for her dinner plate at that banquet. I am certain that Gram is finally sitting down so that angels can serve her. She is the guest now. (Although I know she'll try to help clear the table anyway.)
We learned from her to be the host -- to welcome the stranger and to feed the hungry. It is about the food, but the food that sustains us and gives us the nourishment far beyond what we will eat on any given day.
The loving nourishment Gram gave us all is really a simple recipe, It's easy to copy and easy to share. Welcome everyone through your door; make a place at the table for each guest; introduce your guests to one another; use only the best ingredients; speak your truth with great love; and, most importantly, whatever you serve -- pasta or love -- be sure there is enough. She made it look easy, and it is this recipe that she wants us to copy and share.