Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My "Genial" Uncle Johnny

*Thanks, Cathy, for this picture of Uncle Johnny at the beach this past July dishing up his famous gumbo.*

Love.  Food.  Family.

What do these three words have in common?

Us.  Our family.  His family.

Uncle Johnny.  A man who, as my father calls the "patriarch" of our extended family, showed love on countless occasions over 40-something years of family get-togethers (only 37 years of which I was a part of) and day-to-day living with his wife and children. 

Many of us have adults in our lives that show love through cooking.  Oh, yeah.  This is the South, baby.  Bring on the frying, baking, sampling, stewing, and sharing.  We celebrate every occasion with a covered dish dinner and sweet tea. 

When I think of my Uncle Johnny, I think of many things:  putting his arm around me and calling me, "darlin'", singing on every occasion, the countless times he served me a dish of food, drinking wine on the beach, tending his plants on the wrap-around porch of his beautiful river-front home, and laughing behind a white beard as he played Santa Clause for me and all my cousins. 

I, and the rest of my cousins (disclaimer:  my mom is one of 7 girls - yes, you read that correctly- 7, so there are A LOT of us), spent many years attending the family Christmas party on M------ Drive in Florida.  We devoured finger foods, ham, and desserts until we thought our bellies would burst. In awe we sat in the kids dining area of Johnny's house surrounded by teddy bears.  We ate on a really unique table with cup holders!  (In hindsight, I believe that table was a poker table, though I had no idea what that was at the time.) In that room we banged out Christmas tunes on the piano in front of audiences that clapped no matter the sound blaring from black and white keys because they were proud of our perseverance in learning a melody.

When Alan and I were planning our wedding, we came to the conclusion that a catering company just would not do our family justice.  We were used to home cooking.  Our Uncle's home cooking, to be specific.  Instead of a cold catering company, we chose the love that flowed from Uncle Johnny's spoons.  These came in the form of pork loin with all the fixin's.  That night we were served, as high school sweethearts, by two other high school sweet hearts.  We were hoping and praying we had the loving relationship decades later that Penny and Johnny displayed. 

Memories at the forefront of my mind are dominated by serving on the part of Uncle Johnny. I picture him best standing behind a table dishing up a heaping helping of seafood gumbo to the sunburnt people he loved as their feet were covered in sand but their hearts were open to each other.

I can think of 4 things Uncle Johnny said with his culinary skills and palate- pleasing morsels:

1.  You're welcome and accepted here.  Do you know of anyone he ever turned away?  I don't.  If I showed up at dinner unexpectedly one night, I have no doubt he would have welcomed me in and told me to eat my fill.  It wouldn't have mattered what attire I had on, how much money I made, or what my occupation happened to be.  He would have said, "Welcome.  Eat."

2.  Talk.  Listen.  Linger.  Do you find yourself rushing through your meal?  I do.  Do you find yourself too busy at dinner time to listen to those at your dinner table?  I have been guilty of that countless times.  Just linger.  Listen.  If God calls you home tomorrow, will you be happy about the conversation at your last dinner table?  Or will you have regrets?  Don't let another day pass by without savoring the loved ones occupying each chair at your table. 

3.  Savor family and friendships.  The definition of "savor" is "to enjoy something unhurriedly; to enjoy something with unhurried appreciation."  Our lives  in this day and age seem to reflect the words, "Go!" and "Hurry!"  But families and relationships were designed by God.  We were meant to be in community.  To live our lives together, not as small units, but as extended supportive families.  Uncle Johnny taught us to take time to savor your community, whether it's your family or friends. 

4.  Show hospitality.  1 Peter 4:9 says to, "Show hospitality without grumbling".  Hospitality is a spiritual gift.  Uncle Johnny had that gift.  He welcomed us all with a meal, a glass of wine, a hug, and a smile. 

Johnny, we will miss you.  Your smile, your chuckle, your food, and your positive words.  You loved well and were loved well. We love you.  Thank you for physically showing us the meaning of hospitality and family.