Family gatherings. These two words bring to our minds memories of laughter, warmth, and timeless tradition. Certain holidays have become identified with the rendezvous of relatives, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. But almost any occasion when a family apart is again united, becomes an occasion to remember.
Every New Year and every summer since I went away to the United States to study, I have returned home for a season. These days are the highlights of my year. In different ways, each return has been memorialized with an unforgettable day celebrating the whole family being together again. This year, my parents took the opportunity to pass down a second-generation O’Brien pastime.
Back in the day, as they say, my dad’s family would cross into Mexico to buy fresh black-tailed tiger shrimp from the fisherman right off the wharf. Then they would return home and make an event out of the meal. My mammott (dad’s mom) was an amazing chef, and she passed her touch along to my mom and dad.
Growing up in Kharkov, far from wild waters, I have never experienced this tradition. But now, with the modernization of the country and the arrival of grocery stores, we can buy imported food… like shrimp from the North seas.
A simple dinner of pasta and shrimp with butter and garlic became an unforgettable family event as my dad taught us how to clean and sauté the translucent crustaceans into a sizzling red entree. YUM! Garlic, butter, and lemon; a hot fire; and lots of napkins! Voila. Meal fit for a king.
Someone once said life doesn’t hand you perfect moments – you have to seize the moments and make them perfect. Sitting at my old place at the dinner table, I watched my whole family laugh and dine and felt that truly, the occasion was perfect.
Now the four O’Brien kids (well, young adults) can shrimp fest with the best of them! And someday, I imagine, we’ll be passing on the tradition to another generation of O’Briens.
I think, up in heaven, my mammott was watching us pull off the steaming shells and squeeze lemons, and she smiled. Because love and unity and family continues.