Mama Ellen talks about family and food

My family has had a couple weeks of sleeplessness, grief and gratitude. My beloved Gramps passed away on the eve of our sixth month of this project. I’ll write about him when I’m ready, but for now, here’s what my mom had to say.

She is such a powerhouse I rarely get to surprise her. Her 55th birthday was July 5th, and she spent is burying her dad and flying home. She got up and went to work the next day. When she got home, I was there with dinner. Characteristically, she first cried, then put me right to work, and we made farm budgets over dessert. Also characteristically, in spite of all her other work, she took the time to write this. The warm practicality, grace, fierce love and strength of our matriarchy speaks through her, let it wash over you.

Listen.  This is what it sounds like in a family where love rules:


It sounds like someone running dishwater while in the background your daughter, light of her grandpa’s heart, sits with your stepdad of 33 years, holds his hand and talks quietly to him.


It sounds like settling the dining room with no one else around when your stepdad speaks suddenly out of the silence, saying to you, “I’m sure gonna miss you,” and you run to him, take his hand and say, “I will miss you, too, for the rest of my life.  But I promise always to take you with me.”


It sounds like kids running up the stairs, waking the patient, but he doesn’t mind.  It sounds like kids always saying yes, always minding, always ready for a smile or some tears.  It sounds like grownups remembering that kids need both, to learn how to make love rule in a family.


It sounds like the laughter of lunatics, of people too tired to carry on who are carrying on anyway, and the absurdity of it all is like a drug in the system – bracing and mildly hallucinogenic.


It sounds like voices singing “Happy Birthday” – badly but wonderfully – five days before the event because you are flying home in the morning.


It sounds like your stepdad’s last words as he sits with the remnants of the birthday cake: “Fortunate.  Fortunate.”


It sounds like the quiet voice of your sister saying so calmly, “Come kiss Papa now, and thank him – he is passing.”


It sounds like the noise your mother makes as he looks into her eyes and she sees that he is gone – the saddest, most lost sound in the world.


It sounds like your own voice cancelling your flight.


It sounds like the telephone ringing – again, and again, and again.

It sounds like your mother, strong matriarch in a family of strong matriarchs, inquiring after the needs of others.

It sounds like a well-earned 21-gun salute, on your real birthday this time.  It sounds like the beautiful voice of a daughter speaking a poem selected long ago, and like your own voice singing the song of good-bye – and not wavering even though everything inside of you is wavering and shaking.


It sounds like the turboprop taking off directly after the ceremony and discharging you into the welcoming party of husband, daughter, and kids smiling and shouting to share the surprise as they sweep you into their arms.


It sounds like a daughter’s voice on the phone, wondering where you are as you pull into your own driveway.  It sounds like her laugh when you realize you are talking to her on your cell phone and looking at her truck in your driveway.


It sounds like all of the million things we have to say to one another over a beautiful meal, delivered to an exhausted and soul-weary mom – fresh from the living earth, prepared by loving hands. 


And it looks like this:



And this:


A family where love rules is made up of people who truly see one another, hear one another, and serve one another.  It is a family where the greatest single value is authenticity, beginning with the food we feed one another and the love in our voices when we serve it.


These are the ways we learn to inhabit our own lives.  These are the moments we realize that truly we are fortunate.  Fortunate.

5 thoughts on “Mama Ellen talks about family and food

  1. This moved me to tears. Could there be more sincere or humbling last words? “Fortunate. Fortunate.” I will carry that with me for a long time.

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