Kitchens are a safe space, especially for a returning veteran from both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I first met Scott at church, I put him at about 48 years old. He told me he had been in three deployments until the Humvee he was driving hit an IED, blowing up him and his buddy as well as the vehicle. That was the end of his service in the Army. Then he spent some time recovering in Walter Reed Medical Center, eventually coming to rest in a town near ours.
Scott was a foodie, as I am, and we bonded immediately around food, cooking, and our shared passion for organic vegetables and fruits. He had very little money and could not drive, due to his knee injury. My husband and I were able to help Scott find a small apartment in the old house where I grew up nearby.
I invited him to our house numerous times for supper, conversation, wine, and the healing attentions of our Jack Russell Terrier who always knew when someone was wounded—in body or in spirit. Scott would sit on our couch, and our Jack would leap up behind him and busily lick his forehead, ears, and neck. Scott would grin and say, “You don’t know, Annie, how good this feels!” After suffering serious wounds, the loving touch of a family dog helped Scott and the PTSD he admitted to.
When it came time for Thanksgiving a few years ago, it was only natural that we would invite Scott to our house to both help prepare food and celebrate with our family.
Up until that point, I had always seen myself as the giver and not the recipient of generosity in our relationship. Hadn’t we found Scott an apartment? Didn’t we drive him to dental appointments far away? Didn’t I shop for him and drop chicken and veggies by his door?
But when Scott breezed into our house carrying a bag of fresh leeks to add to the Thanksgiving dinner, I knew we were in for a real gift. He set our daughter to washing the veggies at the sink, then told her to cut off most of the green leaves, saving the tender white bottoms to cook.
“Then, what?” I asked, thinking this had to be better than canned sweet potatoes and mini-marshmallows.
“Then, you slice them lengthwise. Sauté them in some olive oil.” He shook our stainless steel sauté pan with a flourish, turning the gas up high beneath.
“You are so professional!” I exclaimed.
“Was a short order cook for awhile,” he said and began to hum under his breath. He added orange juice, chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper to the dish.
I was the only official Catholic at the table that day, but as I looked around at Scott, my husband, and daughter, I realized we were all Catholic as we sat down to share table fellowship. I remembered that Jesus always invited people to the table for wine and bread — the unfit, the unlovely, the outcast, even the temple priests. I thought of that long-ago Eucharistic meal in the Upper Room as I looked around at the food so beautifully prepared and the smiles of anticipation on my family’s faces. Scott was now a member of our family by sharing in our feast.
“Blessings,” I said over the food, and everyone joined hands while we all murmured, “Blessings,” together. The fellowship in our meal, the safety of a warm kitchen, and the community of friends putting our feet under the table at the same time — all these were our blessings on Thanksgiving Day.