I spent the past weekend in Santa Barbara, California celebrating and remembering the life of one remarkable woman.
The plans were atypical of a traditional wake and memorial service. Without a doubt, there couldn't have been any more appropriate way to commemorate this grandmother, wife, mother, aunt, sister, and to those who were in need...friend.
I knew I had to be there...not only for this lovely and elegant grandmother...but for those in my life who Ioved her dearly...to help them to say goodbye to their "Gigi"...a woman who was one-of-a-kind.
No dark clothing was to be worn...only bright cheerful outfits.
No sad music was to be played...only foot tapping, knee slapping ragtag tunes.
No tears were to be shed...only funny, whimsical stories about the many escapades shared with her by family that were amusing, head-shaking, and eye-rolling.
If one could roll together Maggie Smith (Hogwart's headmistress) and Julia Child into one persona...I think it might altogether describe our Gigi.
She was known for her prim and proper ways that were expected of a wife and mother during the 1950's, but like Julia and Maggie, she could verbalize a one-line zinger that would leave one sitting up straighter, possibly freshening up one's lipstick, or checking the dictionary for the correct spelling and grammar of what one might have just "mis" articulated.
I do remember all of those moments spent with her when I was slightly intimidated by her larger than life presence.
But, moreover, I remember the incredible kindness that she bestowed on those she loved around her...whether they were direct family...or in the family by marriage.
One Christmas holiday, we were all setting the table for the big meal. It was my boyfriend's (now husband...yes, Patrick!) first Christmas with us.
She plucked our two name cards from the table and put them far across from each other. We were one of those love-sick couples who were joined at the hip and always smooching on each other.
When we sat down, she chortled with that Julia Child-like twinkle in her eyes, "It is beneficial to sit next to people you do not know and thus learn to make polite conversation!"
We laughed! We rolled our eyes! But we did it...while sending butterfly kisses to each other across the table and...you know what??
We turned to the family members next to us...and learned to make polite conversation!
Gigi spent many years living in beautiful Santa Barbara, California. Everyone gathered in her beloved town to spend several days in memorial of her beautiful life there.
Loved ones flew in from:
and many from different parts of California.
We all spent time walking her favorite beaches, attending her beloved church, and searching for signs of her presence in order to bid farewell.
And...we ate delicious fresh food from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Much cooking occurred over the time spent in Santa Barbara!
Cooking to fill the belly, warm the heart, and feed the soul.
The Santa Barbara Farmer's Market is a haven for foodie devotees. An incredible array of fresh vegetables, fruits, and seafood is laid out in a stunning venue right in the heart of "old town" Santa Barbara.
I planned on cooking one of the nights for our gathering of family and friends so off to the fabulous market I went to gather all of the freshness that is abundant in this town.
Gigi wanted a gathering of celebration instead of sadness so everyone cooking together and breathing in the wonderful smells of delicious food is as good a plan as I can imagine for remembering this beautiful woman with happiness and joyfulness.
One member of the family cooked a meal full of fresh fish and gi-normous crab claws caught fresh that morning straight from the fishing boats down at the pier.
There is nothing like herbs, garlic, tomatoes, and fresh seafood all working together to create briny magic. Crusty hot bread sopped up all of the tangy juices and robust California wines finished off a night of toasting the life of Gigi.
I decided to treat everyone to a fall menu filled with the aromas of the season:
Roasted Apples filled with Flavorful Herbed Pork Stuffing
The colorful and beautiful Santa Barbara market supplied me with bundles of fresh apples, velvety sage, thyme, spicy pumpkin breads, and gorgeous clusters of beautifully hued grapes.
In between cooking and shopping we spent time with one another walking the beach, swapping stories of Gigi's life, and enjoying each other's company.
We all know life comes full circle. I often think that gathering together when loved ones pass on to the unknown is what makes this world of ours a better place.
Memorials are a time to celebrate the lives of others but they often become a time to reflect heavily on our own lives.
Are we living the one life we are gifted with to the fullest extent possible? Are we striving to create the kind of world that will be passed on to the next generation in the way that we imagine?
As most of you know that enjoy coming to "thyme" to visit with me here, I am taking great stock of my life this year...as the end of my traditional mothering days are moving behind me and a new stage of life is opening up ahead of me.
When someone dies, I think the gift that they leave behind is one of reflection. Not only do we reflect on the life that has just passed but on the life that we are passing through at present.
Just as the farmer's market is a place we go to breathe in the freshness of summer and fall produce, soak up the ambiance of community, and fill our senses with beautiful colors...
So does a memorial feed all of our senses with the awareness of the fullness or perhaps emptiness of the lives we are living.
I do think that celebrating a loved one's life encourages us all to halt our own lives and assess the path that we are all on.
Are we living a life full of the savoriness of fresh herbs and spices, enjoying the satisfaction of crunchy apples and juicy oranges...
but also giving and sharing that joy and beauty to those around us?
With a weekend of reflection behind me, with a weekend of renewed passion for this life that I am living, the gift that Gigi gave to me is profound. It is a gift of reflection.
As I looked around me at all of my loved ones who gathered together, it was apparent that they each had a wonderful array of special moments with this lovely spirit, Gigi.
One of the very special moments from the gathering was all circling around her resting spot in the cemetery. We all quietly came together and one by one shared special, funny, captivating stories about Gigi's interactions with each one of us.
The air was cool and gentle breezes blew through the cemetery. Misty fog began to roll in around us and there was such a profound magical and spiritual moment that we all shared.
Gigi swam the Atlantic Ocean daily well into her 80's. She loved the water and was happiest any time she was on or in the water. She swam the same stretch of ocean under the careful watch of a devoted life guard who knew her for many years.
The final farewell was to assemble once more on this windy foggy day to plunge into the cold Atlantic waters and share in her love of the wildness and calmness of the ocean.
Family all gathered hands along the edge of the rolling waves. Slowly, with sucked in breath and a few whoops and hollers...bobbing heads could be seen moving up and down with the waves.
This was a moment like few others.
This was a memorial like few others.
Hers was a life like few known.
From the oldest of her children to the youngest of her grandchildren, baby Luca, my nephew, she was wished well on her journey and thanked deeply for her many gifts that were imparted.
Certainly there was sadness. Certainly there were tears of loss. But mostly there was reflection.
We gathered once more that evening, with the crashing waves heard behind the house, the wild rosemary infusing the air, and the seagulls screeching overhead to cook together, gather together, and enjoy a meal of good food and wine with one another.
There were no place cards at the table, but one can be assured that everyone sat around each other, looked to the right and to the left...
...and made polite conversation with one another!!
(recipe used from the blog "Licking the Plate")