Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner in July

I was invited to dinner.

This was one of those times when I was on my own, living in our sister church community, hanging out with friends and spending a little quality time with a few families who have become extensions of our own family.

The invitation came from our goddaughter's mom. Over the years we have shared many visits in her home. The hospitality is always generous, even if there is not much food to offer. This is a family that struggles...struggles with a dad who is challenged by alcohol, struggles with a mom who is mentally unstable, struggles with severe poverty, struggles with teen-motherhood for our goddaughter, struggles with violence and real threats. At the time of the dinner invitation, the household consisted of mom, our goddaughter and her 3 year old son, and a younger teenage sister.

My friend, Julia, walked me down the hill and through the narrow short-cut to my goddaughter's house. I have done this walk alone many times, but the stress-level was heightened in the community that night because of the vigil. Late in the evening, a vigil would be held in another home just down the path from my dinner destination. On that same date one year earlier, on a sunny afternoon, two teen boys were shot and killed by gang members as they stood outside of a little store in the community. Julia said she would return after dinner, in time to pick me up for the vigil.

We rattled the gate - a big piece of corrugated tin which almost completely blocks the tiny yard from view. The fire was smoldering under a pot on the outdoor grill - a humble contraption made from a rusty part of an old oil drum. Young chickens with their first real feathers wandered about the yard, entertaining the little guy. Outside the house, three plastic chairs encircled a small round table which was set with a red-checked cloth. We sat at the table, chatting and laughing at the chickens and the dog.

We took some photos of each other. Mom was thrilled to have her picture taken in her Barcelona soccer jersey. A man walked by carrying his guitar on his back. I recognized him from a few years back when he and his buddies played music at our friend's surprise birthday party. He remembered me too, and paused on his way to the vigil to play and sing for us.

As the sun set, we shared dinner. I was presented with a whole chicken, and a big pile of rice set on a pretty plastic plate. "Look inside," the mom told me. Inside the chicken were a couple of whole egg yolks. This was a very special way to prepare the chicken for an honored guest. My goddaughter told me that they had killed one of their young chickens that day. They chose the biggest one. She was really proud of that.

Mom brought out a big pile of tortillas, and a scooped up a bowl of broth from the po
t over the fire for each of the girls. One chicken foot sat in the middle of each bowl. We gave thanks for the food and for one another.

Then we ate. After eating some of my chicken, I asked if the girls would like to share with me. They eagerly said yes, so we divided up the chicken and some rice into their bowls. Mom said she didn't want to eat. She would not sit down with us, but instead, stood by the fire with her arms crossed in front of her and smiling with great satisfaction of having served up her finest dinner. Half-way through the meal, she brought each of us a steaming mug of weak coffee.

Dinner ended, and it was time to go to the vigil. Julia came and picked me up, and we walked a little further down the hill to pray and sing with families in mourning. We hugged and hugged at the gate. To this day, we still remind one another of this night - of the love, the stories, the time and the special food we shared together.

Although I have photos of us together at the table, I am unable to post them out of concern for the safety of the family.

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