In the center of my rental kitchen is a table. It’s not my style; it’s honey oak, and the shapes of the chairs and the pedestal are distinctly farmhouse. The center leaves don’t really match the table. They were cut years later by my father-in-law and stained a similar color, but they don’t quite match in either shape or shade. The entire thing bounces slightly when it’s in use. And yet, the table remains.
The table is one of the few items of furniture that survived the house fire that burned my future husband’s Wisconsin home sometime in the 1990s. That fire left the family—my future in-law family—with not much, though the dogs and cat did escape. The original leaves to the table burned, and hence the replacement leaves. Years later, after he and I moved to Wisconsin, into the first apartment we had to ourselves, we retrieved the table from his parents’ house up north. Now, after Wisconsin and Michigan and Georgia, the table sits in Statesboro. When my husband and I eloped a few summers ago, we ate our wedding dinner around that table, and later, we pushed it into the living room and danced in the kitchen. In our house, the table—and what we eat at it—are the center of our small universe.
I often tell my students that the most important conversations happen at tables. It’s where we help our kids with math homework and where we catch up with friends over coffee. It’s where we try new recipes and pass plates of old favorites. We sit at tables and pass plates; we recount breakups and play the You Remember That Time game; we linger long after the bottles are empty and the plates are too. We need food to live, yes, but most animals do. It’s the way we eat food that makes us human. Food is what we make for the people we love, and then, hopefully, we sit and eat it with them.
The writers in this issue of Wraparound South understand how food works, and what it means. Yes, lots of the food is southern: catfish and sugar and biscuits and Tabasco. Some is from other lands. Regardless of origin, the foods in these poems and essays and stories are forged in cast iron. The issue’s food is purchased at Circle Ks and waiting patiently in restaurant windows and ordered from room service far from home. And food is how these authors tell us things about dementia, and the people they love, and the homes that they can’t go back to ever again.
Not all of my favorite food memories are from my kitchen table. I think of the stone crab claws I smashed on a picnic table somewhere in the Everglades; a duck quesadilla from a food truck in Los Angeles; the barbeque that my family ate weekly when we moved from Ohio to South Carolina. But the essential humanness of making and eating and remembering that food endures. I hope this issue does too.