I hope you have an appetite because this week I would like to acknowledge those who have nurtured my passion for food and hospitality. Because a rooted identity acknowledges its history I’ll be starting before my time. A round of applause for the late Marion Congo and the soon-to-be birthday girl, June Morscheck.
Before I begin, let me say this. Memories are like pastel drawings. Sometimes if examined too closely, they smudge and accidentally become new masterpieces. I fear I smudge a lot of memories, perhaps even distort them, now that I am perpetually tired and coping with mom brain. I need your grace. I am not intentionally a pathological liar though I sometimes fear I come off that way. I digress.
Growing up, the distance between our childhood family home and the warm embraces from my grandparents was too great for everyone’s liking. Still, I treasure memories of holiday visits, birthday greeting cards and tiny parcels from both sides of the family. The distance was great but never unbearable. My grandmothers were absent from our home but they were and still are very close to my heart.
June and Marion shared much in common. Both lived humble lives ministering to people. Both placed a priority on feeding folks well but a simple observation of their silverware gives away each woman’s character. One pattern is ornate, all delicate flourishes and floral motives. The other is simple and very ordinary.
Grammie June, my mother’s mom, is the one responsible for the ornate silverware we delight in. She passed it on to my mom years ago because she wanted its beauty to serve its purpose, not sit hidden away. Grammie is the woman I associate with elegant handwritten letters and intricate handmade doll clothes. Her silverware fits: she appreciates beautiful things. I have no distinct memories of dining with her in her home, but based on how she shaped my mother I know she took great pride in setting a exquisite table, not in a showy way but as an act of love. And I know it was a blessing to many people to be included for a meal.
Grandma Congo, on the other hand, is the proud owner of the ordinary silver cutlery. Marion Congo is a legend. The woman routinely fed upwards of twenty people on a nightly basis for many years, all while raising three boys and caring for a daughter with cerebral palsy. She and my grandfather Herb operated their household as a home for missionary kids in Three Hills, Alberta. The way my father describes this season of life is mesmerizing. Even after working in high-volume catering and hosting events for a couple thousand people, the idea of twenty guests in a humble home every single night blows my mind. Grandma Congo!!!! It takes a very special person to pull that off. I remember the gentleman who delivered the eulogy at Grandma’s funeral asking people to raise their hand if they had dined at her table. The crop of hands was overwhelming. In that moment, I knew I wanted that legacy of love. Marion’s generous hospitality was modest and practical. Again, the silverware fits.
These two women, along with my dear mother, influenced me at an early age and continue to inspire me. Because of Grammie June and mom, I relish delighting people with fine china and crisp linens. (Though let’s be honest. I am definitely not ironing linens in this season of life.) Because of Grandma Congo, I prize the opportunity to serve a dozen people simple offerings in a cramped apartment. I owe them each a great debt. Thank you, Marion and June. I never registered for silver. I’m looking forward to carrying on your legacy and blessing my community with yours.
PS. The fork pictured is certainly not my family silver. This was the nearest fork I could locate to devour someone’s chocolate birthday cake at an office party. Priorities, people.