Pearl at the table

A comforting meal can inspire conversation.

“There are two pearls,” my dad told me. “Well, two that I’ve found so far.”

Pearls? My eyes widened and I craned my neck forward, waiting to hear about where these little white pearls were and why they were so special. My younger 13-year-old self didn’t realize at first that my dad wasn’t referring to the elegant stone produced from the soft tissue inside a mollusk. He was talking about the pearls of wisdom – the insightful statements that provide advice and guidance; the words that ring in our ears when we’re making a difficult decision; the mantras that keep us anchored when the rough seas of life are crashing around us.

When I understood what these metaphorical pearls were, I was curious as to what pearls my dad thought were so important and why he remembered these two. Surely these statements had to be the secrets to a happy life, or at least wisdom to keeping your head held high come Monday morning.

“The first pearl is that there are pearls of wisdom and that you need to be looking out for them,” he said. I thought this was pretty straight forward, but I could tell by the way his hands were clasped and how he looked at me with such a steady gaze that his first pearl was a good reminder to be aware of the knowledge we gain from our experiences.

He moved his hand across the width of our knotted oak table, gripping the corner as his finger tips rounded the curved edge. “The second pearl,” he said, “is to keep relationships alive.”

I wrinkled my nose. ‘Keep relationships alive,’ I repeated in my head. I looked down at his big hands that were still holding the table. I needed a little more explanation. He began to talk about his days of backpacking through Europe. It was the late 60s and he had just graduated from Indiana University. On his journey, he befriended countless people, from shepherds to Spanish flamenco dancers. While he carried little with him, the people he met graciously shared, inviting him into their homes to enjoy a cup or English tea or a meal of cheese and sausage. Even when my dad came back to the States, he kept correspondence with his new friends through letters. While he never went back to visit any of them, his memories of them remained vivid, even some 30 years later.

As we sat at the table that night, talking about these pearls of wisdom, I imagined that he would have loved to have shared another meal with the families he met, or better yet, have invited them to our house in Portland, Oregon for a taste of the Northwest.

While I try to listen for other pearls of wisdom that come across my path, I have really held on to the idea of keeping relationships alive. After graduating from high school, I moved to Indiana, not knowing anyone else at IU and leaving all my high school friends back in Oregon. Despite the distance, I have stayed close with a few of these girls; I’d even venture to say that I have become closer to them since our high school days. It’s during times of the year like Christmas that we reunite and catch up on all the details of our lives that we’ve been dying to tell each other since we last visited in August. Nine times out of ten, we get together around the same familiar place: the table.

Last Friday, a group of us gathered to savor our favorite winter comfort foods – puffy vegetable pot pie, roasted squash, cinnamon apple crumble and velvety, thick hot chocolate. As we raised our glasses of Soave in a toast to our friendship, which has been going strong for the last seven years, I couldn’t help but think about that pearl of wisdom and picture my dad sitting at the table, his mind drifting back to his memories of sharing food with his European friends. Even if my friends and I are only separated by 2,000 miles, instead of 5,000, the few times a year we can be together are secured in our love of the family table, a place that will always be there to house our reunions, whether we haven’t see each other for four weeks or four months.

Today, I’m passing on my dad’s pearls of wisdom to you. I encourage you to make relationships a priority in your life, even if you think you have little time and far too much work still left to do. It doesn’t take too much effort to invite your close friends over for a night of cheese and wine, an afternoon of chewy ginger cookies or a morning cup of coffee.

Keep the friendships going; keep the family table alive.

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