“There are four generations of Levants gathered at this table, so indulge me the opportunity to make a toast.”
My eyes drift to the buffet, vacant of the usual clutter of framed photographs depicting various branches of our knurled family tree; in their place the serving dishes that previously sat dormant on the highest cupboard shelves for 51 weeks this year: the dimpled green depression glass bowl half full of a pungent goat cheese and candied walnut salad with a too-sweet vinaigrette; the Monroe Salt Works Christmas tree bowl, all but a few painted ornaments obscured by Gorgonzola mashed potatoes; Memere’s etched crystal tureen with congealing cheddar-beer soup next to a pair of daily-use plates loaded with crunchy bruschetta and an assortment of Camembert, Gouda, Gruyere and other semi-softs of unknown origin. Count on Michelle to have a cheese-themed appetizer assortment, forgetting (at least I hope that’s the explanation) that I had developed lactose intolerance two years previous. The spread offered me just a few nibbles of dry bruschetta discs while I stared at the cheese like a prisoner eyeing his ex-girlfriends through the glass in the prison visiting room. Had I known Pepere was going to unfurl one of his too-long-for-Oscars speeches, I would have at least taken my chances with a dollop of mashed potatoes: Best case scenario, I would not be feeling a light-headed delirium while he did his usual roll-call of relatives lost, and almost best case scenario, I’d have an alibi for excusing myself to visit the washroom. I silently said a little prayer for brevity, not so much expecting divine intervention as trying to pass a few more ticks of the second hand.
“Raise a glass: may we enjoy each other’s company many more times! Now let’s eat some ham!”
Nine hands that had prepared to fidget with napkins or methodically create and disrupt symmetrical arrangements of flatware were startled into service: A two-line toast from Pepere? What about “the importance of family” tangent? What about the WWII anecdotes? What about — aaaahh, that’s right: Pepere doesn’t like cheese either.
Amid the clamor of ten goblets clinking and nine voices saying cheers, I’m not sure if anyone noticed that I actually said, “Amen.”