Holiday memories center around food and family. So it’s painful when well-loved folks are gone.
Betsy Farwell died at the age of 87, and was known as a big-time foodie whose cooking nurtured many. At her memorial service in Lake Forest, Illinois, her three grown children gifted 300 of their mother’s cookbooks to guests, with the remainder donated to the local library. Back home in Milton, Massachusetts, her son, John “Jay” Farwell and Linda, his wife, gave me a copy of “Gourmet’s America.”
From his mother’s book, I will prepare “Creamy Eggplant Salad” for Thanksgiving even though I never knew Betsy. Yet her son’s stories are so vivid that I will raise my wooden spoon in her honor. At tables everywhere, absent friends and family will be remembered in unique ways, just like Betsy.
Jay recalls a Christmas Eve tradition that began in the 1980s when he, his brother Cameron, and sister Mary were teenagers. Each child was allowed to invite two school friends and their families. One of Mary’s friends came from a family of 13.
Jay said, “If Mom invited you, it included your whole family. It just grew. Over the years we had 200 people coming through our home for three hours on Christmas Eve.”
Did his mother make dinner for everybody?
“Oh, no, just hors d’oeuvres,” he said, which included 10 pounds of steak tartare, chutneys, toasted rounds topped with savories, and a mountain more, prepared by everyone.
His mother created refreshment from the lemons in her life.
“She had a difficult childhood, an inconsistent family life and she didn’t want inconsistencies in her own life. She loved to take care of people of all generations,” he said.
Her memorial service was packed, and some had driven 7-1/2 hours to attend. At the giveaway of 300 cookbooks, friends discovered gifts they had given to her years before. One book had a card congratulating Betsy on her 25th wedding anniversary. A friend was thrilled to find a first edition of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
At her eulogy, Jay spoke of his mom, “Instructing others was just what she always did and no one escaped her Emily Post-trained eye. I am guessing there are a few brave souls here who may be thinking, ‘Betsy’s not here to catch me if my shirt is untucked or my hair isn’t brushed.’ Let me assure you she’s observing from afar and not so far as to get your attention with her four-fingered whistle. The one that could be heard around the world.”
But his light-hearted mom also loved a lewd limerick or a dirty joke. At their holiday tables, the Farwells will recall their mother, in all her music-loving, crossword puzzling, board-game winning, bulk birthday-card writing, speed driving, singing-out-loud splendor.
And like other family feasts shared elsewhere, empty chairs remain full of funny memories of well loved folks, now passed. And we will laugh out loud, despite our missing them so very much.
— Email Suzette Martinez Standring at firstname.lastname@example.org.