That time of the day when everyone sits down together joyously eating the most important meal of the day. Food lovingly made and happily eaten. Everyone conversing and joking together. Hah! Anyone looking at this picture from one of my children’s homework books might notice something quite odd but familiar about it. Yes. Mammy standing and beaming in the background, clutching her third coffee of the day while everyone else eats. I am running a mental list through her head. Kids’ hair brushed? Check. Healthy/delicious/whatever the hell they will eat lunches packed? Check. Pencil cases in? Check. Daddy has his phone just in case the school someday decide to call him in an emergency? (Though they never, ever do) Check. Now time to get myself sorted with five minutes left before I have to leave the house. Ah, breakfast, as I know it.
Once upon a time, I lived in Sicily (the pre-kids days of lounging around without plans or lists) and had the good luck and pleasure to have a wonderful landlady named Rosa who was a formidable cook. When I moved into her basement apartment, she thought (very sweetly) that I would clean and dust for the poor Irish man living on his own in her top apartment. Bless. I didn’t clean for him but we ate a lot of good food together and 12 years later we have three children and a home together. Yep, I went to Sicily and came back with a Kilkenny man!
I may not have cleaned or dusted much while in Sicily but boy did I eat. We were kindly invited to share Mama Rosa’s big family table for meals, particularly on big Saint’s Feast Days and times like Pasqua and Pasquetta, a 3 day Easter celebration. In her holiday house in campagne, we kicked back with barbecues of fish and meat, simple salads, her own tomatoes, sun-dried, sizzled and shriveled from the hot Sicilian sun, roasted artichokes and wild fennel her husband had just moments earlier hopped a neighbour’s wall to pluck for his homemade salciccia. And sugo. We ate lots of good sugo.
Everyone cooking and setting the table together, pouring wine, fetching water. A joint effort. I loved to watch Rosa nip out to her wild garden which loped at a slope on a hillside and pluck fresh basil and rosemary or whatever was at hand for one of her dishes. And then she would shout “A Tavola” when she was ready to eat. And come to the table we did. Whether indoors or outdoors, a big celebratory meal or a simple meal of pizza, everyone sat and ate together, with Mama Rosa seated at the top of the table. Not standing and serving. Because at Mama Rosa’s table Mama Rosa always sat and ate. We served ourselves or each other but Rosa’s cooking time and expertise were acknowledged and appreciated and she too appreciated her cooking in all its gorgeous glory. None of this “Oh, I’ll just hang back while you all eat and I’ll nibble on the leftovers” lark!
The family that eats together stays together. Or at least they argue and find out what’s happening with each other. I’ll never forget the look of puzzlement on one of our au pair’s faces when I told her I wouldn’t be staying for lunch, that I would grab something on my way back to work, as she was happily setting the table for lunch one day. The puzzlement of “But why not”? “Why the rush”? It was one of the great pleasures of her day having her family return to the family home to sit and eat lunch together.
And it is a puzzlement to me too.
In between weekend activities and a busy work week, we manage maybe two family meals a week. But why not breakfast every day? Surely there is time for breakfast together? Or is this just too unrealistic? And if it is, then maybe that’s just a bit not ok. And that is why Mama beaming in the picture (or maybe looking a little bit morose now that I look at her a bit more) has me wondering. Why am I this Mammy? Why don’t I sit? In between the ponytail tying and lunch packing, surely there is time. And so to this Mammy, to me, and to all the Mammies who are too busy to sit with their families, “A tavola”!