When I was a kid, my parents installed one of those fancy smoke alarm systems in our house. It was the kind where if you accidentally forgot you were roasting a chicken and filled the kitchen with smoke, the fire department would magically appear at your front door. One cold September morning after the system was installed, my dad started up his car in the garage and then ran back into the house to grab his coffee. A wisp of exhaust clung to his coat and set off the alarms, and before we knew it a fire truck was tearing up the front lawn. After the alarm system was reset and the cats reemerged from their hiding spots, my uncle Frank happened to stop by for a visit on his way up north. Frank worked as a hearse driver, making pickups and deliveries all over New England. On this particular day, he was on the clock and driving a late-model Lincoln hearse. We ate lunch together—buttery grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato soup—and then Frank took off for Maine.
What my family and I had experienced as an eventful but otherwise innocuous morning appeared to our neighbors as a tragedy: Firemen rushed to the Souza home but were too late to make a difference, so a hearse arrived to remove a body. In the wake of our “tragedy,” neighbors came bearing foil-wrapped baking dishes and pie plates and lidded Dutch ovens. Had there been an actual tragedy, the protocol would have been clear: express condolences; drop off starchy sustenance; and make haste, out of respect or perhaps discomfort. But as my parents reported the day's actual events, sympathetic looks exploded into laughter. And a wonderful thing happened: a potluck. Instead of leaving, everyone came inside. My mom served coffee, and the foil covers came off.
I've always been able to recall that day in detail. I'm sure it's because the comedic setup tickled me as a kid. But recently I've been reading that day a little differently. If not for the alarms and Frank's well-timed visit, the impromptu potluck never would have happened. It's a reminder to me that we often wait for reasons to gather good friends and good food, which is too bad: Everyone I know could use more time with friends and a homemade lasagna.
As another September rolls in and temperatures drop, maybe we should all pretend that a hearse just showed up next door and head over with something warm and comforting. A pot of associate editor Steve Dunn's meaty, vibrant Pork Chile Verde or a pan of senior editor Andrew Janjigian's tart, buttery Apple Crumble would show love and offer relief—tragedy or not.
Editor in Chief