The first gathering place I think of is Grandma Rummels. House immaculate. Frugal to the core. Food, hearty and plentiful and made with love and care. Cooking was her craft. Huge bowlfuls of perfect mashed potatoes, with a mound of butter nestled on top, platterfuls of homemade noodles, gastronomical perfection. If we could have, Sue and I would have eaten only potatoes and noodles. But there were also green beans and perfect sweet corn and peaches and some kind of meat, with rich gravy, and Beefsteak Tomatoes sliced into thick slabs and peppered and a zillion desserts. And always the uncles and aunts, who somehow didn't have many kids of there own but loved and adored us because, not only were we their oldest brother's oldest son's kids, but because they were kind and good. Aunt Dollie, who wore too much rouge and caused scandal by walking into the room with it on, even though she'd been part of the family for decades. She smelled sweet and fragile, always asked us to sing and would sit and listen with tears in her eyes, like we were the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, showing up to grace her living room. It was a little boring, cause children were supposed to be seen, but not often, and definitely not heard, unless they were singing. Still it was safe and friendly and warm and inviting. Money was a taboo subject but it was understood that hard work earned it, debt was evil and frivolity, meaning spending on anything beyond food, shelter and basic clothing was sin, as was jewelry, movies and most of the world outside of their corner of it.
And then Grams house in the BIG city. Stuffed full of animals and books and notions and knitting and coffee, which we were privileged to drink, and accouterments and other luxuries that I don't remember but the smell of Grampas tobacco pipe and Grams' knitting and the kitchen. It was friendly and full of life and always warm and we were so loved and wanted there. We'd eat de shrveined shrimp and think we were elegant and cultured, and go shopping with Gram and out to lunch and basically get to buy whatever we wanted because Gram was a working woman and had owned a dry cleaner store, probably before women had the vote, and now worked for a BIG company in the BIG city. Gram was our friend. It was personal. She knew what we liked and gave us money to pursue our dreams. She taught us to knit and payed for our lessons and talked about books and the things she was reading and about her work. And Uncle Hank and Grampa were at home when we got back to admire the clothes and records and to say that we deserved to be spoiled and Grampa would pull 1/2 dollars out of our ears and hand them back to us and give us ice-cream in cool 1/2 pint cartons between meals. Gram took us to every single Disney movie ever made and when I'd go visit her from college we'd spend the week-ends going to movies and out to eat and talk and laugh. Whenever I had a crisis, from age 8 on up, Gram would let me cry and tell me, "it'll be alright, Baby." And I knew I was one of her babies and it would be alright.
And Mom's house. With familiar dishes and food, like green bean casserole which I will, probably to my chagrin, admit that I secretly LOVE, and always new and interesting food. All of us, including Dad cooking and getting dressed up and making an occasion out the Holiday. And flowers on the table and everything clean and neat and tidy. With a football game on later, or maybe a movie, or more friends over and popcorn, inevitably, because our family believed it had it's own tier on the food pyramid, which is a belief I still hold to. And frequently after feast hikes in the damp, late fall. Full of wet leaves, and the smell of someones wood fireplace and the crisp air burning off platters worth of food. And going back to the house to snack or not but to continue the lack of routine and wash dishes together.
And my Mother-in-Laws house. Comfortable. No pretense. No formality. No china. But familiarity and ease and Aunt Doris' clan and familiar people all getting caught up on how things are and have been. And kids and ping-pong games and maybe a puzzle or a board game. And routine and stability.
My house has been a gathering place for our immediate family, and at times, those folks that we've gathered along the way to journey with, or family that occasionally visits, like the many Easters in New Mexico. But, mainly for the 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of us as our family has grown. China from great-grandma, and a menu that's planned with familiar favorites and new recipes and always flowers, cause flowers are a must for any occasion. And when KB was little, homemade, hand print place cards. And pictures around the table, with the feast laid out, and everything clean and neat and just-so. And good music on thanks to Miss R. or Viking Man and sparkling cider. A spectacular desert, which is just as important as flowers. Perhaps apple or pumpkin pie or a truffle or ice-cream, or all of the above, crafted and beautiful as well as delicious.
We've lost memories and our gathering place this month and we've cried over the memories that we won't be making this season. But, Viking Man has comforted us all with the thought that God holds all of our memories in His vast store house of knowing and they are safe with Him. We don't have to remember everything. And that has taken a huge weight off of my shoulders and allowed me time to remember some excellent things, and gathering places and seasons that have shaped me, comforted me, guided me, molded me. And the knowledge that all of those gathering places are with me, despite the place or lack-thereof.
May your gathering places be blessed this week. May God hold your memories, both those past and those to come and may you be blessed this season.