There’s nothing like spending the weekend with family to remind you why you’re weird.
What I mean is this: each family has their own brand of weird that manifests itself in the individuals that compose it, but spending time with those related to you reminds you exactly what kind of weird you are and that here it is normal. (I must say Sam’s a brave man to join the family.)
The summer has been filled with the gift of family – Sam’s family in Italy, my mom’s visit last weekend, and my grandma’s visit this past weekend (along with cousins who were passing through on their way to Maine). I have enjoyed seeing these reminders of myself showing up at my door from time to time. This summer I have also spent some good quality time with my aunt who recently moved to Hartford and we’ve come to realize how much we have in common. We both seem to get the same thrill from cooking up a feast of food for those we love and smoothing out the uneven edges in ice cream containers and crooked cake slices (among other things we share). It’s our shared brand of weird, but hey when we’re together, we’re speaking the same language.
This weekend we sat around the dinner table with my cousins, two aunts, uncle, and grandma, recounting family stories and hearing rumors about ourselves spread through the branches of the family. Strangely enough now it is the children (well we are hardly that anymore) that spin tales and lead the jokes told at the table, while the parents sit back and listen to their children banter, chiming in once in a while to correct us. The matriarch, my grandmother, listens quietly at the head of the table, hearing every detail and speaking up every now and then to chide us for our tone or cruelty.
“Let’s talk about something nicer now, shall we?”
Yet we continue in the same style, assuring her that no ill feelings were intended.
We have graduated from the kids’ table, the one we used to surround at holidays and dessert quickly when the food was gone to go play. Now we linger at the table for the conversation and even the youngest, my 13 year old cousin, puts up with all the women and knows how to throw in one-liners here and there that break us up into laughter.
When I returned home on Sunday, I pulled down the long wooden recipe box that my grandma (the very one I just saw this weekend) handed down to me from her grandmother (apparently her grandfather made it). The family gathering had inspired me to try a family recipe.
Though I was looking for dinner, I didn’t feel inspired by the “Barbeque Beefies” recipe and since I had several dark brown bananas from the weekend, I tried her banana bread recipe instead. I could brag that it is a family recipe, unique and special, handed down through the years on the yellowed index card, but I’ll be honest – it’s banana bread, a recipe that doesn’t hold any secrets and also I didn’t follow it exactly. Since food and family change and develop over the generations and since I can make hardly any recipe without changing something, I did my own interpretation: butter instead of shortening, brown instead of white sugar, and a little extra milk to thin it out. I interpreted a slow oven as 325 degrees (only baking it for 45 minutes or so) and vanilla as about 1 teaspoon. My grandma interpreted sweet milk as regular milk, as opposed to sour milk. I hope great-great Grandma would understand (I never knew her of course).
The loaf came out moist and flavorful, as to be expected, and it was devoured quickly at work. I also made some mini buckwheat banana breads as an experiment and those were also delicious.
Sometimes spending time with family reminds you that you aren’t weird, but it might also remind you of what’s important to you, or that you aren’t exactly where you want to be. You remember your passions and talents and you wonder why you haven’t been more ambitious in pursuing them. Maybe you work a job that’s not fulfilling or you’ve fallen off some kind of metaphorical wagon (healthy living, maintaining relationships, whatever), but family can bring you back (or sometimes take your further over the edge).
That “someday” when you own that café/bakery feels a wee bit closer and your path to make it there a little clearer. And you ask yourself why you spend your weekends cooking with your aunt, or making banana bread and sweet potato skillet cakes and planning elaborate cooking escapades on a weeknight if it’s not something you really love.
Maybe you’re crazy or maybe it’s just your own kind of weird.