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Spirit Story

Feasts of the heart

By Anne Bokma

It’s not just the food that makes a meal memorable. Here are my reflections on three meals I’ll never forget.

Twenty-seven years ago: My husband and I are in New York City for our honeymoon. We go to a fancy restaurant on the 106th floor of a tower in the financial district. Everything is expensive, but we don’t care. We spend $40 on a bottle of red wine and order steak. We clink glasses, knowing this will be a moment to remember forever. The steak cuts like butter. We have a panoramic view of lower Manhattan and feel on top of the world. The bill comes — it’s the first time in my life I’ve spent more than $100 on dinner. It’s worth every penny.

Today that restaurant, Windows on the World, is gone. It was destroyed along with the building it was housed in, the World Trade Centre, in the terrorist attack on 9/11.

Sixteen years ago: I am about to give birth to our first child. Nurse Fran, who has been with me throughout the long night, urges me on. She grabs my bent knees and pushes hard against them, like a linebacker steamrolling through a field of play. Then she morphs into a cheerleader: “Push! Push! You can do this!” The baby comes out, red and slick, and I am shaking. I hold my daughter for a moment before she is sent down the hall to be inspected. I tell my husband to go after her. Left alone in the room, I realize I am famished. That’s when Nurse Fran appears in the doorway, holding out a brown paper towel with two pieces of white toast slathered in butter, and a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm tea with milk and lots of sugar. I could weep. I do weep. It is the best meal I can remember having in a long, long time.

Six years ago: It’s Thanksgiving and I am yearning for a boisterous Norman Rockwell-style family gathering. But it’s not to be. My husband’s family is far away. And after a long struggle over religious differences with my fundamentalist Christian family, we have severed our connection to the point where family meals are awkward and forced.  

I decide to adjust my expectations about holiday meals. I pack a big thermos of carrot soup, some homemade banana bread and a jug of cranberry juice. My husband and I take our two young daughters for a hike and picnic along the Bruce Trail near our home in Hamilton. The October air is cool, and we shiver while sitting among the sumacs. We eat ravenously, scraping every last bit of soup from the bottom of our mugs. Then we head home, holding hands.

I have had fancier dinners than these. I have sampled caviar and lobster tails and complicated appetizers that took hours to prepare.

Yet these are the meals I remember most. Each bears a shadow of tragedy, pain or separation — but they also represent so much hope and promise. Whether it was a succulent steak, buttered toast or a simple soup, each morsel was consumed in gratitude for the people with whom I broke bread: my dinner companions — a true communion of saints.

Anne Bokma is a writer and editor in Hamilton.

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