Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Price of Free Food

I walk into the apartment, barely nodding a hello to those gathered, and head to the kitchen to survey the offerings. The counters are filled with some of my favorites. I decide on the bagel, on one half piling the lox, while the egg salad and tomato cover its twin. Eying all the desserts, some still in their cellophane wrapping, I silently count the anticipated calorie intake for the evening. I soon hear what will be a common refrain over the next several days. "Just came for the food?"

I had received a call on Saturday morning that my best friend's father passed away. Since the funeral I have spent as much time as possible in the company of my friend and his family, offering my love and solace. Can I help it if this happens to coincide with the time my dinner alarm sounds?

My friend lives virtually in the direct path between the place where I have spent many weekends the past several years, and my New Jersey home. Often I find my car  headed to his residence on Sunday evenings, just to say hello. And, oh yes, this inevitably seems to coincide with supper.  The tale frequently repeated is that, late on Sunday afternoons, my friend and his wife turn off the lights and lock the doors, hoping that I will just keep moving on.

Now, at this most solemn of times, my friend tells his mom not to worry about lacking in company once the mourning period ends. He advises her that as long as she keeps putting out extra food, I will find an excuse to be there.

I guess I come by my reputation deservedly. It does seem that whatever house I enter as a guest, opening the refrigerator and peering in to consider the opportunities is part of my ritual. "Don't they ever feed you at home" is almost a constant refrain, seeming to attach to me for decades like the back end of a hyphenated last name.

But wouldn't you think that the solemnity of the occasion and my sadness at the loss of someone to whom I was thisclose would warn others to give me a pass? Surely all could tell that the second plate full of salad, the extra piece of grilled chicken, the assortment of cakes and cookies piled high before me, or the slice of pizza that I ate as a kind of exclamation point at the end of one meal, surely they knew that this was merely my coping mechanism for my grief.

I am considering eating before I go over to pay a condolence call tonight. And, once there, I will probably have to sneak that extra plate of food in secrecy, almost like a thief stealing the good silverware when all eyes are averted.

I sit down with the woman who has been a second mother to me for half a century. She appears to be so grateful that many who have been part of her life for so long are around her.  The talk inevitably turns to those wonderful summers of my youth, an almost permanent house guest at their place by the beach. And of all those meals at the end of the day, the barbecues where the steaks, burgers and dogs were in abundance and I ate more than my allotted share. I still recall with unbridled delight the crumb cakes that I would gobble up in the morning, long before most of the others in the house had awoken from their slumber.

This is not a week to dwell on my issues, or to cast aspersions my way. This is a time to celebrate the life of one who was well loved and well respected, and to give thanks that he was with us for so long. But I do know that there is this awful thought creeping up from the recesses of my mind, that I have to keep beating back. "I wonder if there will be some more of that delicious crumb cake tonight."

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