My dining room table
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, February 16, 2021
The other day, I was sitting at a table in the corner of SDH and thinking about storytelling. More specifically, I was thinking about memory and the ways that we transmit these memories. You may wonder what eating has to do with memory or personal narrative. Excellent question. But I was thinking about where I was sitting, my hand balancing on the smooth wood of the table, and then remembering all the different tables at which I have had dinner throughout my life. When I was little, my family didn’t have any furniture so we folded a cardboard box that I had beautified with magazine pictures of elephants and ate off of that. When my siblings and I were too short to even reach the counter, we ate out of cabinet drawers. We also ate off of hotel or motel countertops, but the kind that only have a microwave and a coffee maker, so naturally, it was my dream to have a real oven and bake when I grew up. But I didn’t know what I would bake. The idea of family recipes that are passed down through generations was entirely foreign albeit endearing to me, because we didn’t have a proper kitchen for a lot of my childhood and even when we did, we couldn’t afford a lot of the ingredients for homemade meals. We’d eat boxes of food that people had left us or whatever was cheapest at the store, but I liked to imagine that we created our own recipes because traditions are so important for family identity and history. I didn’t know how to remember without material reminders of what I didn’t want to forget.
Near the end of the break, in late January, in order to honor the anniversary of my papou passing away, my father and I made kota kapama and bougatsa. It was a process that took us all day — from stewing the chicken for many hours to slowly heating the pastry in the oven at a low temperature. We picked out the food from my father’s extensive knowledge of Greek foods his mom had cooked for him when he was growing up; I hadn’t had many of these foods during my own childhood. While we were eating this meal, I thought about my papou. I thought about how he was one of the bravest men that I have ever known and how I wish I had been able to get to know him better. And I realized it wasn’t the specific food or tradition that mattered, but rather the presence of a ritual or a symbol in and of itself.
I recall my childhood very fondly. I remember when we did make food, like lentil soup or challah sometimes. I remember the tables that we sat at or the counters we stood at, as my nostalgia at the SDH table demonstrates. Humans are amazingly resilient. We have the unique ability to create traditions and find ways of transmitting memories and stories even when it seems impossible to do so. One of the ways that I remember is through storytelling. I recently wrote a poem to commemorate the life of a man who was like a grandpa to me and helped my family through our difficult times. In the poem, I talked about making biscuits for him, recalling the arduous process of crafting a recipe, making the biscuits and packaging them for him to take home. Every time that I eat biscuits now, I think about him. The tradition of the biscuits is connected to my memory of him, inseparable even. Sometimes I can’t believe how far I’ve come, from that little girl who made biscuits and decorated a box with elephants to a junior at Notre Dame, eating in a beautiful dining hall with my friends.
So how do you remember? What tables have you sat at throughout your life? What foods or traditions help you remember those people or places that you cannot allow yourself to forget? How far have you come to sit at these Notre Dame dining hall tables and how do you recall your past selves that have sat in all those different places? Tell me, because I want to know. Because it doesn’t matter what your tradition is; it just matters that we find ways to remember. Remembering is our right, after all, as a species concerned with the past. We cannot craft a future without remembering our roots. We must remember those who have touched our lives and we must remember who we have been so that we can know who we have become. We must remember.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.