The Parisian roast duckling practically moistened the TV screen as the narrator, with heavy French accent, described each delectable ingredient. The final touches of parsley sprig and scallion flowerets were placed on the platter as she said, “And thou you have ze poifect meal.”
“The perfect meal,” my mind repeated. From the haze of my yesteryears came soft memories of perfect meals that I, too, had enjoyed. I ate the perfect breakfast at Grandma Garrett’s house, high on a ridge above the lake waters in Tennessee. The early autumn morning was wrapped in a thick white fog that had silently crept up the hollow throughout the night. The “banty” rooster’s shrill crow pierced the quietness and the dampness. Not one man-made sound contaminated the peace that hovered over Grandma’s little green-shingled house. I sat at the tall, oilcloth-covered table and ate biscuits that had been cut out with a Bruton Snuff tin. I ate round, jack-ball shaped sausages that had been canned the previous winter. I ate eggs, gathered fresh from the hen house; and this perfect breakfast was topped off with homemade strawberry jam and newly churned butter brought from the coolness of the outside cellar. What a breakfast!
I reach back in my mind and retrieve the memory of a perfect dinner I also enjoyed. In my childhood world, ‘dinner’ was the noon meal, now called ‘lunch’ by those who have never waded mud puddles or swung on grapevines. Grandma Martin served this perfect dinner at her humble log home on a warm Sunday. Her log house was not like the currently fashionable ones erected from pressure-treated pine. No, it was a true log house built from trees felled and hewn, laid and chinked. It consisted of a large main room, a side-room, and a kitchen built onto the back. I lay on Grandma’s straw-filled bed as the Sunday sun streamed through the open wood door. The wallpaper around my Sunday-bed was pretty pages torn from magazines and newspapers and pasted to the walls with flour-paste. I read the walls and listened to the bees hum around the hollyhocks outside the one, tiny window. I could hear Grandma and Mama talking in the kitchen while they cooked on the woodstove. They discussed family matters, gardens, sicknesses, flowers, and more. I listened, too, as Grandpa and Daddy discussed fine points of the Bible while they waited for dinner. Finally, I heard those joyful words from Grandma, “Come to dinner!” I raced to the hand-hewn table and ate golden-laced hoecakes, boiled potatoes, thick-sliced cured side-pork that had been dredged in cornmeal and fried to a crunchy crisp. I drank fresh milk and ate honey taken from a huge stone jar in the kitchen corner. I was happy. I was full. I was content.
And what about the perfect supper? Yes, indeed—I have also enjoyed the perfect supper at my own childhood home. Five siblings, stair-stepped in size, would gather around the table to be served from a platter of boiled hen and a huge bowl of rich, yellow dumplings. In today’s heart-healthy world, that bowl of dumplings would be considered a lethal weapon; but to a little round-faced, barefooted girl it was delicious beyond words! The warm dumplings filled more than my empty tummy—it filled my heart and my memories with love straight from Mama’s hands.
The perfect meal? Yes, I have dined upon many. The perfect meal is the one served by loving hands in the company of those who care. Surely, Solomon’s wisdom was never more apparent than when he said that it is better to eat turnip greens with a friend than a T-bone steak with an enemy. Actually, he said “herbs” and “a stalled ox”—but I know what he meant.