July 17, 2022—Drawn together by ritual, almost by instinct, we gathered around our kitchen table, perhaps one last time, for a family lunch. Zach, our son, in town for Vicki’s birthday earlier that week, fussed with his egg-based concoction, heating on the stove. Vicki warmed up some leftovers in the microwave. Alisa, Vicki’s sister, sat in a corner chair, thumbing through the Memphis Flyer. She was staying with us, temporarily, after selling her East Buntyn home in preparation to move to Austin, Texas. Tomorrow, Alisa would fly back to Texas, after living ten years in Memphis.
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Eating meals together, mostly lunch and dinner, is more than a routine or habit. For our family, like many others, meals are a time to be together. To be a family. While there’s no set time for either of these meals, my family knows that when the clock closes in on twelve noon, it’s time to gather for lunch. And lunch is mostly a do-it-yourself affair—leftovers, microwave dinners, peanut butter sandwiches, egg-based concoctions, or whatever is close at hand.
By contrast, dinner, typically served around 6 pm, is more planned-out and regimented. There’s always something on the menu, even if it’s quick and simple. On the weekends, dinner might be a night out at one of our favorite local haunts. As I wrote back in March (Saturday Night’s Still All Right), dinner, whether at home or at a restaurant, is family-time.
Family. That’s what is important.
Don’t get me wrong. Food is important, too. We love our meals, and, in our small unit of five, we have cooks—and bakers—who could give area restaurateurs a run for their money. In fact, Vicki and Emily can whip up a homemade carrot cake that’s out-of-this-world. (I hope Jennifer Biggs of The Daily Memphian is listening.)
Unfortunately, yours truly can’t boil water without setting off the kitchen smoke detector. I can maneuver my way around the grill, and my one specialty—a homemade mashed potatoes recipe—is exclusively for the holidays (see the next installment of Family Ties), so I leave the heavy lifting to the real cooks.
Nonetheless, when I look around the dinner table at my family, three, four or five of us, depending upon the circumstances, I can’t help but feel a sense of peace, a sense of comfort, knowing that we’re together. That we’re secure. We’re bound together, not only by blood relations, but by all that we’ve endured together.
Family. Togetherness. Peace.
What’s truly important.
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The word family is tossed around in today’s vernacular much like thoughts and prayers are used in response to another national tragedy (see A Little Passion in Our Compassion). While I’ve used family to describe the folks I’ve worked closely with in various professional and volunteer settings, I understand that at the end of the day, when the proverbial “stuff” hits the fan, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, or an online community are not the same as your family.
Yes, your friends and coworkers may rally to help out as much as they can. But, they’re not family. They don’t have the same DNA invested in the ultimate outcome—good or bad.
Family is family…even at times when they don’t act like it, or seem to care.
My family matters to me.
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Emily and I sat in our usual spots at the kitchen table. Extra chairs were situated for Zach and Alisa. We ate, we talked, we laughed, and, yes, sometimes we stared at our phones. We were together…here in Memphis. An undercurrent of emotions permeated our lunch gathering, yet we focused on our time together. Focused on the memories that only a family can have.
Focused on how fortunate we were to all still be together.
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That evening, we sat around a table at the Memphis Pizza Café on Park Avenue. Pizza Café is one of our favorite spots with great food and a great atmosphere. Alisa admitted that she’d miss Pizza Café, but, as best as I can tell, Austin’s a bit of a foodie town, so I’m sure she’ll eventually find some great pizza joints.
Those new spots, however, won’t feel the same.
We talked, we laughed, we people-watched, and we ate. That emotional undercurrent was still there, but we kept stiff upper lips and enjoyed our final supper together in Memphis.
Family. What truly matters.
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Much like the lyrics to that old Springsteen song, our family’s ties bind us together, no matter where we are located: Memphis…Austin…Atlanta. Doesn’t matter. We’re family and we’re bound together even when we’re not together. Meal time brings us together, but family is what keeps us together.
The ties that bind
Now you can’t break the ties that bind
As we all know, The Boss is never wrong.
Ken Billett has called Memphis home for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, fiction author, and nationally known advocate for skin cancer prevention and research, Ken volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main in downtown Memphis. When not tending to his flowers, Ken and his wife Vicki travel extensively. StoryBoard Memphis is proud to present Ken’s columns Time Capsules and Get out of Town as ongoing features here on StoryBoard.