Especially around the holidays, when my grandmother would come into town from her home in Arkansas. She and her sisters would prepare all of their best dishes for us between the time she arrived in mid-December until the day she went home, which was right after the New Year. The turkey and ham for Christmas, along with all of the traditional sides of sweet potatoes, dressing, gravy, greens and green beans, and desserts so rich that one small piece was all you really needed, although you would inevitably go back for another piece, or do like I did, and get a little slice of everything.
I also recall the barbecuing that my uncle would start up between Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. Of course we kids only got the burgers and hot dogs, but we were completely unrestricted from the baked beans, potato salad and the fruit and cream based ambrosia salad that someone ALWAYS brought to these get-togethers. In fact, I loved the beans and potato salad so much that I learned how to prepare them myself. They make good go to items for cooking for large groups at pot lucks.
We didn't know it then, but we were learning that one of the simplest things you could do for those you loved was to cook for them. When we would gather with family during these holidays, all through the card games and dominoes, the endless games of tag or the dumb movies put on to keep us quiet, the centerpiece of these gatherings was the food. To this day, the smell of freshly baked ham, cooked greens, and banana pudding reminds me of Easter dinner at my Aunt Kathy's house. So much so, that I prepared a replica of that meal for my own children this past Easter. Nostalgia dies hard, and of course I had to make healthy tweaks to some of the menu items (except the banana pudding. Which I had my sister make. Because she is just awesome like that.), but my children have grown to love the way I go all out on holidays, so I try to make sure that I continue our traditions.
You can't always make grand gestures towards your family. You may not be there right at the moment of tragedy or heartbreak. You may be the relative that always arrives with foot firmly planted in mouth, and never knows the right thing to say to soothe and comfort. But you can feed anyone. Very few acts show more love than making sure that those you love receive nourishment in their time of need. It's such a simple thing, but so difficult for some because they feel that their efforts in the kitchen are embarrassing compared to their friends and relatives with more experience. Don't worry so much about cooking skills; not everybody has the ability to be an instant chef. If your talent extends to picking up a pre-cut fruit tray from the grocery store, you have still accomplished the same act of feeding those you love.
My son is grown, and he and I switch off cooking duties during the week. The more he learns about cooking, the more he realizes that he prefers to eat at home. He is beginning to appreciate that delicious smells coming from the kitchen speak of home, and peace, of family, and love. He recently returned from a trip, and admitted that my Sunday dinners were one of the things he missed while out of town. On Sundays, I tend to cook a slightly larger meal, as I generally have more time than I do during the week to get into more detailed dishes. In this way, I comfort and nourish the kids for the week ahead. I might not always say it, but I have a way to show it.
Which is what really counts when you think about it.