On the Feast of the Epiphany, 2017
I sat down under the food court canopy
at the Big Box store
and paused before eating
the Big Box hotdog
which everyone agrees is the best of all hotdogs.
I paused to ask that it would be blessed to my body,
blessed and not cursed.
I paused to recall the Day of Diagnosis,
to think through once again the fat portfolio
of foods and ingredients I must no longer ingest,
to recite to myself the litany of
common, ordinary, everyday, ingredients
in all their varied and marvelous, delicious, featured or hidden forms
that my body now reacts to as if they are poison.
I paused to guesstimate how many
of my allergens, my demons,
might be in this Big Box hotdog.
I paused to calculate the risk.
I paused to think if there had been other recent
times when I had crossed the line
for I am allowed some small indulgences
once in awhile,
if I do not eat or drink too much,
if I first take the medicine that dulls the reaction,
if I use it sparingly,
only once in awhile
on a special occasion,
such as a Feast Day.
I was prepared.
I had not indulged in other forbidden fruit…
that I could recall, not to my awareness.
I had taken the medicine.
I was prepared.
And so was the hotdog:
one stripe of deli mustard, one stripe of ketchup,
a generous spill of perfectly cubed sweet onion,
warm and waiting in my hands,
an elegantly beautiful and aromatic still life.
The sausage stretched
beyond the snug embrace of its bun
and as the skin snapped
in the pressure of that first small bite
and flavors washed across my tongue
my eyes were opened
and I could taste and see the goodness
and in the goodness was remembrance.
I remembered my grandfather’s wheat fields in Kansas.
I remembered driving all night through the desert,
to get there in time to help with harvest.
I remembered wondering if the bread
in the sandwiches my mom packed in my lunch for school
maybe, just maybe, had some small taste of wheat from our farm.
I remembered when the corral by the barn was turned into a turkey pen.
I remembered the multitude of those fearsome beasts
—have you seen them up close when you’re only 4?—
milling about in angry close quarters
and me being sternly but unnecessarily warned
not to get too close.
I remember thinking my grandfather,
who I knew as a quiet and gentle man,
must also have a fearsome side
because those turkeys would give him
a wide circle of respect when he waded into their midst.
And I remembered thinking at the next Thanksgiving
as Mom put our turkey in the oven,
“I hope this is that big nasty gray one that followed me along the fence.”
And I remembered all the early morning milking
on my other grandfather’s dairy farm in Arkansas,
in the years before he and my uncle switched to beef cattle.
I remembered them hooking up the machines in the pre-dawn cold
to the cows that would take them
and milking the others by hand.
I remembered churning butter on the porch
from the cream we had skimmed that morning,
then later picking fresh sweet corn, tomatoes, okra and string beans.
I remembered feeling rooted to the land because everything on the table
came from the fields and garden around us.
And mindful of the flavors in my mouth I remembered other sacred meals.
I remembered eating an almost inedible chicken in the jungle in Colombia,
barely sheltered from the rain in a poor couple’s lean-to.
I remembered finding the will to be honestly grateful
for this god-awful chicken because to them it was the richest
gift of gratitude they could bestow. And I remembered
feeling so unworthy of that gratitude because we had given them
so little. Some vitamins. Some antibiotics. A few sutures. Some sulfa powder.
A prayer. A little hope.
But the wound in the man’s leg had healed and he could work again.
So we were invited to share in a meal of their one and only chicken.
I remembered eating delicious, mysterious, robust greens in Tanzania,
greens cooked in oil, with a side of ubiquitous peanut butter and some bits of meat.
I remembered how the women of the clinic and the village
had worked for hours to prepare the meal,
how it was delicious and filling,
how a little went a long way.
I remembered how it seemed
both mysteriously wonderful and not mysterious in the least
that the boisterous crowd of us all fit around one small picnic table
and the whole night was lit by lanterns, starlight and laughter.
And I remembered sharing tortillas and rice and beans
with migrants in Tijuana
as they told me about the hazards of a life lived on two sides of the border,
of how hard it is to hold family together when your lives
are laid across borders, of how hard it is
to work and pay the bills when the work is on one side
and the family is on the other,
of how easy it is to end up on the wrong side because of a lapse in paperwork.
I remembered my soul being fed by their sadness and their tenacity
as we shared tortillas and beans and rice.
And I remembered, also in Tijuana,
my friend the surfer-priest pushing a bowl of mariscos soup away from him
because he saw a baby shark’s fin in it, saying “I made a deal with sharks.
I don’t eat them and they don’t eat me.”
And I remembered barbecued ribs shared with a brother
as our motorcycles cooled in the shade of giant redwoods.
I remembered the brewpub owner/entrepreneur
who gave us those ribs the night before and told us
to save themfor the redwoods, the same generous man
who took us into his home for the night
and treated us at his brew pub to the best jambalaya we had ever had,
who, next morning, set us on the road
with a breakfast of smoked salmon and kale smoothies,
who did all this so easily and casually
even though he didn’t know a thing about us
except that we were friends of his friend.
And I remembered
the overpriced New York airport hamburger split three ways in 1974,
and Cervelle au Beurre Noir in Paris,
and a hundred nights of gourmet meals in Boston,
and freeze-dried meals beside high Sierra lakes,
and Mexican food on the way to Death Valley,
and my Aunt Roberta’s fried chicken and fried okra,
and my Mom’s lutefisk and potatis korv at Christmas,
and my Dad’s prime rib and steak and lobster.
On the Feast of the Epiphany
Under the food court canopy of the Big Box store
I tasted and I saw
and there was remembrance
of flavors, and places, and persons.
I tasted and I saw the goodness.
I saw that the plastic table under the food court canopy
where I was mindful of each slow bite of my Big Box Hotdog,
this table anchored to its polished concrete floor
was sitting on the same earth as every table
or carpet or blanket or tent floor or towel or spot of ground,
where I have ever been fed.
I saw that my life has been
one continuous communion
at one great and continuous table
where the foods have been a memorable delight
whose flavors are still fresh on my tongue,
but the true sustenance was in the companions.
O taste and see. And remember.