Monday, October 26, 2009

Sitting Shiva, Holding the Wake: Remembering Gourmet Magazine

From the time I was a small child, I knew that a death meant food and laughter and crying and more food.

People gathered. They brought platters of cold fried chicken or deviled eggs, a pound of coffee in a can.

They sat on webbed lawn chairs in living rooms, and the bereaved were hovered over by ladies in dresses and brooches and men in short-sleeved shirts and ties.

There was some crying, but not as much as there were laughter and stories. Sometimes the recounting was about a silly habit the deceased had, or the time the hand brake had given out on his car, sending him running down the dirt road after the runaway vehicle. Oh, the chortling, and then the sighs and the handkerchiefs dabbed at eyes and noses.

Just so, this past Saturday, a group of us gathered to remember: not a person, but an institution--Gourmet Magazine. Instructed to prepare a favorite recipe from the long history of the publication to share, we had compared ideas throughout the weeks ahead. No one really called dibs on anything, but as the day of the celebration approached, we started to stake out our culinary claims.

And on the night of the party (from wake to celebration to party), we arrived one by one and two by two. It was already dark and there were twinkling lights decorating Kim's house. We came in, holiday style, all bundled and apple-cheeked, bearing cloth-covered dishes and bags. There was a fire in the fireplace, candles, stacks of plates, and extra chairs. Oohs and aahs and nods of recognition as each new dish was unveiled and placed on the table. "Oh, yes, that was a classic!" "We always made this one for birthdays." Several of us made cocktails from the Gourmet collection, and folks gathered to mix them up and clink glasses, nibbling at the finger foods and showing great restraint around the larger dishes.

Finally someone, I don't remember who, grabbed a plate and we all fell on the repast spread out before us. Dishes balanced on laps, cheeks even more apple-y from the Cranberry Gin and Tonics and the fire, shouted greetings to late arrivals. Jon gave an oyster-shucking demonstration and we cheered as shuckapprentices tried their hand under his careful guidance. Daisy the Collie tried desperately to get her nose into the guacamole, into anything and shhhhhh, don't tell, I did hold my empty plate to her sweet head for her to lick as clean as a whistle.

We went around the room and told stories about what Gourmet had represented in our lives. We meant it when we said it would endure, and surely our gathering and respect for the good food offered and our genuine affection for each other were testaments to the cultural bond we all shared--because of a magazine.

The Magazine of Good Living.

All of us in that warm house on Saturday night found our way to each other because of our love of Good Living. Gourmet was our scripture. Our Requiem, our Shiva, were appropriately marked by smiles and pampered palates, hugs and compliments over a crust just so, a presentation artfully designed, a flavor that awakened a memory.

It led a full, rich life, that magazine. It fed full, rich lives.

We live better because of it.

Let us give thanks.

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