When Julie Guyot first asked me to be a part of the Take Out Project, my original plan was to host a dinner party for friends to explain the project and our hopes for building community through slower, more personal and purposeful gatherings.
And then my grandmother passed away unexpectedly.
Devastated and hollowed, I asked Julie if I could take one of her handmade ceramic serving dishes home with me for the holidays. Grieving the loss, I thought what better tribute than to gather my family around a table sharing stories and memories of my Mimi.
Sadly, we never found the quiet, reflective moment I was hoping for. While I was home, my grandfather went into the hospital and steadily declined over the holidays. He went into Hospice shortly thereafter and passed within the week. Needless to say, it was a rough season. My mom losing both her parents in a month's time - our minds and hearts were all over the place.
When my Pop Pops fell ill, our days grew long and unstructured. Eating became more mechanical. I was disappointed that the opportunity passed us by, but didn't want to appear too upset for fear of making anyone feel worse than they already did.
So I once again packed up the serving dish and carried it with me.
Time and space is what I felt I needed. My new plan was to make my Pop Pop's famous spaghetti and antipasto recipe for myself. I knew this wasn't in alignment with the original intent of the Take Out Project, but felt it could serve as reminder of the power and potential of the project... to heal.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected moments of true connection came when I went shopping for the ingredients for my Pop Pops antipasto. The recipe called for a bevy of meats and cheeses, none of which I had at home or would be likely to use again. Knowing that I was making this recipe for one, I didn't want to buy and subsequently waste more than I'd be able to eat. I approached the deli with a feeling of hesitation and guilt for the annoying order I was about to unleash on some poor deli clerk - requesting just a couple slices of salami and a single slice of four different cheeses. I decided to preface my order with an explanation of my intent, of the Take Out Project, my grandparents and the recipe. Maritza, the deli clerk, listened patiently and smiled. She helped me through my order and, at the end, even remarked "That wasn't so bad." Then, right before I turned to leave, she looked me in the eye and, with the utmost sincerity, told me she was sorry for my loss.
In preparing the meal I felt a certain sense of duty to follow the recipe as close as possible. The original instructions, inked by my Pop Pops' hand, included a few special notes about who liked what and in what quantities. "Becky and Chuck like a lot of cheeses and meats. Judy only eats cuckes." So I feel like my decision not to include anchovies would have been supported since it was obvious my Pop Pops cared more about everyone enjoying the meal than strictly following the recipe. As I was carefully slicing and arranging the ingredients on Julie's handmade platter I got the sense he was looking over my shoulder, making sure I got it just right.
In the end, it wasn't the food I made, the candle I lit or the glass I raised, but the thought and care I put into each choice. It was the mindfulness of it all. I was able to savor all the best of the moment - all the best of my Mimi and Pop Pops.