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Sharing meals, sharing stories

At Thanksgiving dinner, one of my nephews told a story about introducing himself to strangers at bus stops as a king, a story that had the entire table in stitches.

That’s just what happens when you share food with a bunch of people you’ve known forever.

Laughing around the table is one of the best things about Thanksgiving and, for me, one of the best things about this holiday time of year. Sharing meals and sharing stories go hand in hand, and there’s something wonderful about being surrounded by the babies you once held, babies who have turned into grown-ups, most of them with spouses who add to our family circle.

We share our stories, our histories, our food. And as a family, we make allowances for everyone else’s needs and idiosyncrasies. At this dinner there were two vegetarians, one person with celiac disease and a mess of omnivores. There was ham and turkey and two kinds of stuffing.

The king’s wife made a dish of green beans with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts; the youngest nephew made mashed potatoes with roasted garlic. There were dinner rolls and baked yams, and lots of pie. And lots of stories.

My nephew the king is a tall, blond mathematician doing a post-doc program in Haifa, Israel. He and his wife are trying to learn Hebrew, since they’ll be there for two or three years, and my nephew says chatting at bus stops is a good way to practice. How he decided to refer to himself as King Tim is a mystery, but then, his vocabulary is limited.

My niece told stories about exasperating customers at her job. One of the nephews managed to work the phrase “naked turtle” about eight times into a story about the fights that occur under his apartment window on hot summer nights.

A lot of our stories had to do with all of the meals we have shared over all of the years. When the king was little, he used to butter his biscuits, eat all the butter off, then add more butter and start again. The youngest nephew has an ex-girlfriend who still sends desserts to family feasts, in this case gluten-free pumpkin cupcakes. The oldest nephew is experiencing all kinds of new foods, thanks to his Chinese wife and the Korean neighborhood they live in.

In an age when fewer families eat dinner together, these holiday dinners become even more important. There is something about food that brings us together, and brings out the stories.

Last weekend, a different branch of the family got together, this time to celebrate one of my sisters’ upcoming birthdays. Another long table, another group gathered from near and far, more stories and more laughter.

One sister got the butternut squash bisque, and shared tastes. That got us talking about squash, and soup and pottery and the tradition of Sinterklaas. At a good family dinner, conversations move rapidly from one spot to the next. Nutmeg graters one minute, new babies the next.

The next morning, I got a call from another sister, worrying that maybe all the holiday plans were going overboard — Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, another family get-together, a day for the cousins.

But then we got to talking about the reasons we get together, and pretty soon she was saying how nice it would be to have the gang at her house for one of those occasions.

Don’t stress, I advised her. Remember why we are getting together. Remember the whole point of sharing a meal is to share time, to share memories and to make new ones.

This year the family has scaled back on presents, and amped up on time together. I think we’ll all be happy with the change. And well-fed too.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @hartleygazette on Twitter.

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