Lettuce sandwiches and other stories that matter.

My Grandma, Joanne, serving up tasty desserts to me and my cousins, 'back in the day'. I'm the one who can't stop herself from tasting the food.

My Grandma, Joanne, serving up tasty desserts to me and my cousins, 'back in the day'. I'm the one who can't stop herself from tasting the food.

Today Tumblr reminded me that my old blog, The Meaning of Eat, would be four years old today (if I were still writing it.) I went back to the blog, and I found a post from four years ago about an evening of impromptu storytelling among three generations of women: me, my mother and my aunts, and my Grandma. 

I remember the day that inspired it. Sitting at my Grandma's house with my mom and aunts. It wasn't planned, it just happened. 

I'm glad it did. And I'm glad I wrote about it. 

If I didn't, I might not remember. 

A year ago, my Grandma passed away. 

But stories connected us that day, and they connect us still. 

I'm glad I took the time to be there, on the simple, uneventful evening. After all, this is how we make stories happen. By being there. Showing up, spending time, sharing some food, listening, laughing, being present.

And this is how we keep stories alive. By sharing them. Passing them on. And telling them, telling them, telling them again.

Taking time to share stories, even about things as simple as lettuce sandwiches, is always time well spent. 

Here is the original story I wrote.

Three generations & a dose of nostalgia

A few days ago I found myself sitting around talking with my mom, two aunts I see infrequently, and my grandmother. It was an impromptu get together, a cozy evening centered around bowls of chill and cornbread that my aunt prepared, red wine, and conversation. The discussion naturally seemed to flow around food. 

For me, the best part was hearing my family reminisce. 

I know everyone says this about their grandmother, but my Grandma has been a master in the kitchen. I have never met anyone with such skill and precision. Her baking was legendary in my family. Her roasts and pies and other works of perfection were the centerpieces of our holidays: no matter what was going on in our lives (and like all families ours has had some rocky times), everyone looked forward to sharing one of my Grandma’s great meals, together. 

But the other night I heard my aunts reminisce about the less glorious stuff. The weird ‘Mac 'n’ Cheese’ processed deli loaf that Grandma, like many mothers, put in the kids’ sandwiches. One of my aunt’s youthful predilection for lettuce sandwiches: iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise on buttered white bread.

And just the white bread alone… my mom’s eyes get a bit glassy when thinking about it. She eats so consciously and healthily that Wonder would never pass her doors -- but you can see the memory on her face when she talks about it, and it is a good one. 

In all the nostalgia, it became clear just how strongly sense memory stays with us when it comes to food.

I remembered a time, one November, when I was a kid. I was outside, and it was cold. That damp chilliness that comes on as fall makes way to winter. I remember vividly walking up the block towards my house, and seeing the kitchen windows fogged up. I knew even before I opened the door that it would smell good inside -- and it did. I don’t know what my mom was making, maybe it was mashed potatoes and pork chops, but it had that good, comforting smell, and the warmth from the oven steaming up our small kitchen. I knew it would be good to be in the house, to let that smell, that coziness, wrap itself around me. 

I don’t remember the taste of the food -- but I remember the sensation of having it cooked for me, what it represented, how it made me feel. 

Whether it’s the security of a white bread sandwich or a Sunday roast supper, food is so powerful. And the memories… years later, they still taste good.

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Camille DePutter