My twelve-year-old son slams the menu closed, exhales over the white table cloth, almost blows the candle out that flickers in the middle of the table. Puts his head in his hand and stares past us. The rest of the family, we all look at each other with mouths open and eyebrows furrowed. Ask him what is wrong.
“It’s all in French,” he declares. “I can’t read a single word so how I am supposed to know what to order.”
Suddenly I realize that though I have done this – made decisions in a foreign city where the common language is not English – he hasn’t. None of us speak French but we can identify words, help him decipher. He chooses the duck.
And after the waiter takes our orders, collects the menus, we look around the dimly lit room. We talk about artwork hanging on the walls, beautiful plates of food passing by, the architectural details of this old building in Montreal.
His exasperation still lingers over us like fog. Then Grandma starts telling stories and the air turns clear and sweet.
She tells the kids about the time she and their late grandfather, the one they never met, take their Dad to Europe when he is younger. Laughs about how he drives fast on the curvy autobahn, eats until they are miserable in France. Admits they start drinking good coffee after drinking the joe in “bars” dotting the landscape of Austria.
Those stories transport them to a different place, expand perspective, and evoke smiles and questions. Suddenly what seems a nuisance a few minutes before becomes interesting and desirable.
After he gobbles down the duck, the waiter brings the ice cream sundae he orders. The dessert that takes a while to come, because as we find out later, ice cream sundaes aren’t on the menu at Bonaparte Restaurant. And we didn’t realize it then but this simple dessert makes the Miller family history book. Because he still declares that chocolate sauce made from scratch in the kitchen just for him, is the best he has ever tasted.
Sometimes the best part of family holiday gatherings are the stories that fill the spaces around the duck or turkey. Because learning how others walk the journey before you inspires growth, gives hope for the future.
What are some of your favorite stories? Share them on Thursday with the ones gathered around the table, playing games on the floor, or doing dishes after the big meal. Watch the transformation glow on faces.