Togetherness in my family has always been defined by food. Granted, our family gatherings, whether in Florida or my grandmother’s kitchen, could always be described as nothing less than chaotic. Our personalities are as different as the flavors in the food we cook. Some spicy and loud, throwing caution to the wind, others sweet and muted, with smiles at their disposal; all conflicting in their personal qualities. All with a separate image of the idyllic family we didn’t have.
Their faces and character patch together an ever-present family picture that will always hang in my mind.
My mother’s side has always made an effort to come together. Every year or so, her side of the family gathers in one place from all over the country to bask in the bliss of sunny beaches. Always our personalities clash, and always we have the time of our lives. Her side of the family is probably the richest in diversity of opinions, and that always makes for a lively vacation, no matter the place or time.
My father’s side is filled to the brim with cooks. My grandmother and my father have always been the main ones, with open arms to any taste that was (literally) brought to the table. I remember my young feelings of enthusiasm when I cooked with them as a child. Savoring each small task they assigned me as I carried them out with the embellishment they probably didn’t necessarily require. They’ve always seemed to appreciate the excitement blooming in my eyes nonetheless. A glimmer hidden among my pupils, childish in it’s unsurpassed pureness.
The food was flavorful. Scary even, to me at the time. With names I couldn’t pronounce, particularly the spices, which I was so often asked to retrieve. Naturally, my easily impressionable seven-year-old mind even hatched the idea to name my favorite doll “paprika” perplexed by the laughter my name inspired among the adults.
I remember the heat on my skin from the overcrowded kitchen’s open oven, blackened with use. I remember shelves at my grandmother’s house resplendent with utensils that I, even to this day, have no idea, not even a vague one, what purpose they serve to the overall picture. I remember the tall black chair in the corner I still sit on every time I visit her. Swinging my feet above the ground, watching my shoes intently as they rush by in a dizzying haze. Different sized feet, same feelings.
I believe in cooking together as a family. Eating together as a family. I cling to that belief even as my childlike ideals transform into adolescent defiance. I love my family, in all their chaotic, dysfunctional glory. I firmly believe that food is the best way to stay together, even if in many ways we are broken. Their laughter fuels me today. Our collective pool of tears and hurt isn’t so important when we sit together and share stories and strife. We’re together, and that’s what matters.