there was a moment, almost twenty years ago, when my now ex- husband, a community psychologist by training, suggested that we start hosting weekly spaghetti dinners for his graduate school classmates.  the degree to which i blanched-- well, it probably couldn't have been measured.  never mind the fact that we were living in a very small apartment with a futon sofa (our only piece of furniture) which served as both seating and bed, never mind that our kitchen was four feet by five feet (including the fridge, which was full-sized), never mind that i felt shy and introverted and unable to imagine hosting 10-15 people for dinner on a weekly basis--  my real fear was that we were going to be entering a community-- a community that had previously been only his-- but that was now going to be mine as well, whether i liked it or not, AND happening in my living room.

after a small protest i agreed-- terrified-- and we started hosting weekly spaghetti dinners for a bunch of people i was not sure i was gonna like.  he made the spaghetti sauce from scratch, following the recipe that the guys use in 'the godfather' (II, i believe-- when they 'go to the mattresses').   he also made the garlic bread-- long french or italian bread slathered with butter and RAW garlic which he meticulously chopped into tiny pieces.  people who were going to be late would call to reserve a piece of that garlic bread-- the mix of so much butter with such sharp barely toasted garlic-- our mouths burned with it but no one could get enough.  i would clean-- getting the apartment ready for the crowd-- and the guests would bring beer or wine if they wanted it.  over those years i grew to feel part of that group, part of those friends, and it was because of those dinners that i came to like living in chicago.

when we left chicago for ithaca-- a move from my now-ex husband's graduate school to mine-- we started the spaghetti dinners over again in our upstairs garage apartment at the top of cornell's hill.  my classmates, all african american (except for one classmate from japan)-- looked at me, when i invited them to the first dinner, with the look that black people reserve only for the craziest of white people.  i knew they thought i was crazy, but i also knew the power of a weekly shared meal.  those dinners grew-- until they included black graduate students from a number of different departments, and a handful of like-minded white students as well.  the condiments changed-- to include hot sauce and red pepper-- and the conversations grew louder and funnier.  but those evenings were also healing-- a dinner after an especially grueling class with a teacher we all disliked was balm to our sore egos, and good for us to all know we were in it together.  for me-- it was the way that i was able to bridge the racial divide and make real friends-- because we had time outside of class to talk, to laugh, to get to know each other in real terms.   i will be forever grateful that my friends got past the initial assumption that i was another crazy white girl (which, really, i am!) and came for dinner.

my ex- husband and i continued this tradition through buying our first house, through moves to two more states, through our children being born, and ultimately through the end of our marriage.  in the years since my divorce i have had to learn how to forge community on my own-- and despite the sense, at times, that the community i have is temporary because i do not have a spouse to anchor it--  thanks to all those spaghetti dinners i have found that i am really good at making friends, really good at finding my place in a group, really good at building a life based solidly in community.

and so this saturday morning, in my little shop in the center of my little town, with the farmer's market bustling across the street and people wandering in and telling me how beautiful it is-- i know that i am home.

and i am grateful.


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