By Fr. Oliver Butler
My grandmother loved everybody who walked through her door – one plate at a time. As a boy who liked to sleep in on the weekend, I wondered what in the world could compel her to get up at 6 a.m. to start cooking every Saturday! The truth is, hospitality at her house was the perfect confluence of never-ending love and food, and that’s why everyone always wanted to be there.
At our core as humans, we all want and need both – delicious food to fill our empty bellies and unconditional love so that our hearts are filled full. All these years later I can compare my grandmother’s Saturday lunch – “Ma’s lunch” – to going to church and receiving the Eucharist: No matter how you are feeling when you show up, you leave better off than when you arrived, and you know you are loved through being fed.
Well, I’ve been cooking, grilling, smoking, and feeding people ever since I asked Ma how she made that chicken taste so good! For a few years now I have occasionally smoked meat for friends (some of whom have even become paying “customers”), and all my real estate clients after closings. But, at Thanksgiving it is all about the smoked turkey breasts. And normally, with some of the proceeds, I am able to give away 2 or 3 to someone who needs one or has done something to make the world better as a “thank you for the inspiration” gesture.
This past Thanksgiving was different. One of my customers said he would be traveling, but that he’d like to “sponsor” one of the families I might give a turkey to. The light bulbs turned on. I reached out to customers to see if they wanted to also sponsor a family. Before I knew it, I was smoking 54 turkey breasts! Between our own profit-sharing and “sponsorships,” 22 families who had a rough 2020 got a smoked turkey breast – refugees, people who had lost jobs, or family members due to the pandemic – never had it been easier to give away some “turkey love.” At Christmas, the number was 28 smoked turkey breasts and 14 families.
On Saturdays, after my grandmother cleaned up (yep), she’d make her way into the living room and lay down, happy as ever – tired, but all smiles. She lived for those meals. I finally understood after handing off the 54th bird to the Gateway of Grace refugee ministry van. What got my grandmother up at 6:00 a.m. also got me up so early ready to get after it. For me It took 3 days. There was a fire. I ruined a shirt. I was exhausted, and smelled like smoked meat… And by the end, I needed to lay down. But, I was all smiles, and I look forward to the next time I can spread a little Turkey love – one delicious smoked turkey breast at a time.