The smell of my mom’s chili filled our entire house a few nights ago. And for a second, I felt like I was a little girl again with pigtails, sitting around the dinner table with my mom, pop and brother, eating chili mac, corn muffins and salad – a staple in our house in the fall.
Family dinners were a mandatory thing in my house growing up. It was a chance for all of us to sit down and talk about our day, my father’s sense of humor would normally leave us all laughing at some point of the meal, me sitting there with my legs swinging just listening intently to every word that came out of his mouth and then there is that picture forever etched in my head of the four of us together sitting at that small glass table in our kitchen, trapped in time and in my memory.
But then speaking of laughter, my memory falls to other memories of Tim and I having dinners at our kitchen table with my stepkids. It was something that started for no reason other than my stepson making a comment one day about having dinner at the kitchen table. And then it became a thing that we all looked forward to at least one or twice a week, especially for my stepson. He would even call it to my attention if we hadn’t had a family dinner in a week. And the dinners were usually more conversation than silence because I chose to ban cell phones and bodily functions during the meals. Strange enough, it was the bodily function rule that hardly ever stuck. But coming back to laughter, it was those dinners that brought us even closer as a family. The stories my stepson would tell, the bits and pieces my stepdaughter would give up about her life and then my husband and I doing our well-known playful bickering that everyone has come to know us for so well. Laughter was always at a premium at those dinners. Just another picture etched in my mind, those dinners, my stepson and that piece of happiness that we may never have exactly like that again. But we can try like hell to replicate with the family left behind.
It is crazy how all of this could be triggered by the smell of a simple pot of chili. My dad’s laughter so clear that I can almost hear it again, sometimes I even strain to try to remember what it sounded like. My stepson’s million dollar smile that we have captured in hundreds of pictures, but nothing compared to seeing it in person because it was definitely a sight to see.
We continue to live each day unsure of what it will bring. But throughout my life, I found it a blessing that laughter has been a common theme or tie in most of my memories. And if anyone really knows me, they know it’s not just giggles or just a smirk, but instead full belly laughs that make your entire body ache and your face hurt the next day after laughing and smiling all night long. Those are the memories I have and the ones I hope continue throughout my life.
When I was 22, my best friend from high school, Tina, and I decided to take a week-long vacation to Colorado. We were young, unattached and dumb so why not take a cross-country trip from St. Louis to Colorado with no real itinerary or plans. The drive out there proved to be very typical of us – laughing until our sides hurt, insane antics that only two young girls could possibly do and no logical reason for anything we did. The week itself proved to be different — not different bad, but different in a way that we had not spent that much time around one another since high school and now we were in some ways reacquainting with each other on this week long vacation just the two of us. But obviously we made it to the other side from that trip and came back still friends because 7-8 years later she stood next to me on my wedding day as my maid of honor, two years after that held my hand when my stepson died and then months later accepted the role as Sweet Pea’s godmother. But once again, laughter has always been that common blood line throughout our entire friendship. Through the misunderstandings, the different paths our lives have taken and the challenges that two very separate lives can bring, we can still find a reason to laugh through it all and continue to believe, “Whatever doesn’t kill us, just makes us stronger.” Or as we’ve come to believe, “… or makes us laugh hysterically.”
And to think all of this started from a pot of a mom’s chili. I hate to think what may happen when I make her slow-cooked pork in a couple weeks when it gets even cooler. But then again, I don’t because remembering our past isn’t such a bad thing as long as we don’t choose to live in it and forget how to move forward. Not a day goes by when I don’t wish for a giant family dinner with all those we’ve lost and those we’ve gained in the meantime that those lost loved ones never got to meet. The truth is the memories are there to help ease the pain of knowing they will never sit at our table again, and provide us with the knowledge that they were once there and loved every second of it when they were.
No matter how hard my life has been at times, the good times have certainly tried their hardest to outweigh the bad. And while my heart is still broken at times, it’s the laughter that bubbles to the surface to help me continue to heal and keep moving. It also helps me find another reason to want to make new memories with the hope that my boys will one day have flashbacks as adults of family dinners, road trips, vacations, adventures and memories we have yet to create.