April 12, 2013

Life Around the Table

As a child, my parents constantly lugged my sister and I across town to Kay and Kenny's house. There, we played with their son, ate Kenny's homemade ice cream, and ran wildly through the mishmash of yards in their vicinity while our parents talked or played cards. When we were at Kay and Kenny's house, it usually meant later than usual nights, nights that ended with my sister and I asleep in the car on the way back across town or pretending to sleep so my dad would carry us gingerly to bed and my mom would change us into our pajamas and tuck us into bed.

When we moved across Texas because my parents wanted a better life for my sister and me, Kay and Kenny moved with us. When we built a house on a cul-de-sac, Kay and Kenny built a house right across the street. When their son got his license, he drove me to and from school, always in silence unless the radio was on because he had no idea what to do with me or why I wanted to stay after just a little bit and talk to the boy I liked. The three of us kids became teenagers and we all went our separate directions, but we still had homemade ice cream on Kay and Kenny's back porch and we still went to the lake each summer together.

Even now, when I go home, Kay and Kenny come across the street, sometimes with a meal, sometimes with an invitation for hamburgers, like their own family has come home. Their grandkids and my kids and my sister's kids ride bikes and swing on the homemade swing Kenny attached to a tree in their backyard.

I didn't realize until I was an adult that this kind of friendship was rare. As a child, I loved when my parents sat around the table laughing and playing cards with their best friends, but I didn't know why I loved it until much later. I love it because it was community, I saw my parents having fun, and because it made feel connected to a greater whole. I love it because it taught me what it takes to have a long-term, understated, consistent, deep friendship.

Most of it, I realize now, revolved around the table. Meals were never anything special, just a picnic on the back deck thrown together at the last minute or a spontaneous decision to go out to eat, all of us piling intermixed into cars. We just walked into their house and they just walked into ours, bringing or borrowing whatever was needed. And if we were lucky, the meal ended with Kenny's famous homemade ice cream, the kind that is half-melted at the start and that requires a second or third helping.

On the back door of the house that Kay and Kenny lived in when I was young, a sign said: "Back door friends are best." I was just a child, but I remember feeling that we were somehow honored guests because we always parked by their garage and just walked right in the backdoor without knocking.

This is what I'm going for in my life: back door friends (or at my house, garage door friends), people who feel comfortable waltzing in the front door without knocking, who grab what they need in the fridge without asking permission, who know that there is a seat at the table and love in my heart for them, and who know that the meal might just end with homemade ice cream.

Kenny's Homemade Ice Cream
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 heaping Tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1 can Eagle brand condensed milk
1 pint half and half cream
Whole milk
ice cream salt
bag of ice

Start with the eggs in a blender and beat for 2-3 minutes. The blender should run the entire time the ingredients are being added into the little top thing that comes out. Add the condensed milk and the half and half. Add the vanilla, flour, salt, and sugar. Let the mixture run for a minute or so. Stop the blender and pour the mixture into a 3 quart ice cream machine container. Pour some whole milk into the blender and blend it to get all the yummy residue. Add this milk to the machine container and as much milk as needed to get to the fill line. Turn on the machine and start adding ice around it until it's about 1/3 full. Sprinkle ice cream salt on the ice. Continue this process until it's full. Let the machine run until the ice cream is ready!
This post was inspired by Shauna Niequist's new book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, of which I was given an advance copy. If you need a reason or inspiration to open your door to friends and strangers, Shauna's book is for you.