A Place at the Table

Summers in the Midwest, we'd make the annual trip to Michigan. My parents met and married there, but moved after their first child was born. (My parent's first child, Tracy, died just weeks after he was born. My dad woke up, checked on the baby...and he was blue. He passed from a little understood phenomenon called crib death. The subsequent scrutiny and family pressure drove my young parents to seek a new life...elsewhere. In case you were wondering...my name, Traca, is a derivative of his name, Tracy.)

Memories of summer vacations in Michigan, are followed by a wave of nostalgia and visits with Grandma Derby. We weren't related, but she was the woman who nurtured my mom and provided a respite during her younger days. No trip was complete without a visit to Grandma Derby.

Like my mom, I learned a lot from this woman. The adults would gather around her table--the round one in the kitchen with a plastic table cloth. Flesh slightly damp from the hot, humid air, you learned not to move your arms around much, being forced to peel the tablecloth from your arms first.

As the adults caught up on family gossip, Grandma Derby always left a seat for me. She'd fix my cup with milk, coloring it with the barest hint of coffee. Feet swinging from my seat, I'd sit and listen for hours, silent as could be. I learned quickly. The moment I made a sound...my father would send me out to play.

Happy with my place at the table, I practiced being invisible.

rapid learning that occurs during a brief receptive period, typically soon after birth or hatching, and establishes a long-lasting behavioral response to a specific individual or object, as attachment to parent, offspring, or site.

- To impart a strong or vivid impression of: "We imprint our own ideas onto acts" (Ellen Goodman).

- A distinguishing influence or effect: Spanish architecture that shows the imprint of Islamic rule.

Since my early years, I have been imprinted by my place at Grandma Derby's table. I dream of experiences like TED, where the brightest minds come together over food and discuss ideas. I read about artist salons and daydream about conversations with writers, artists, poets, chefs, farmers, architects, politicians, activists....

The film "A Partner to Genius" was another influence. Architect Frank Llyod Wright and his wife Olgivanna built their home, Taliesin West in the Arizona desert. There, apprentices would live and work on the property. Olgivanna was intrigued by the idea of developing young architects both in their work and the arts. Saturday nights, the most influential minds of their time came for dinner. Later, they built a theater to include performances.

Those influences have stuck with me, and provide the driving force behind everything I do.

People ask me, "When do you sleep?"

Answer? When I'm too exhausted to go on.

I have the good fortune of knowing some of the brightest minds of our time. And if you knew me, you'd know...I have fantasises about bringing everyone together for dinner and a sharing of the minds. There are many opposing forces: geography, money, schedules, venues, blah, blah, blah.

But I chip away at my dream, one event at a time. Whether it's a food blogger conference, an Americana potluck in the roasting facilities at Stumptown Coffee, a trek to an artisan butcher for a demonstration in beef cutting, or I grab "America's Disciple of Flavor" for an umami lesson in the middle of a strawberry field, the important thing is...what did you learn? And I constantly ask myself: how can I bring people together for a shared experience?

For me, that's a life well-lived.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.