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True Grit for Dinner

Sharing stories at the dinner table creates a life-long hunger.

I felt out of step with the world when the film I loathed most was nominated for an Academy Award. I simply cannot understand why Black Swan is up for an Oscar. Call me old-fashioned, but I do not think watching a lovely young girl get abused for 90 minutes is "art." Apparently, I am in the minority.

Sucking in my breath I waited for the other nominations. Narrowly saved from denouncing the entire industry as ludicrous, True Grit rode in on a white horse and saved the day as the final nomination for best film. I exhaled and took Oscar off my blacklist.

Going about my day, I began to wonder why on earth it mattered to me so much. Checking my Facebook page, I noticed two responses from friends I respect who absolutely loved Black Swan. Is it possible we saw different versions of the same film?

Well, the answer there is, sort of.   

Although we saw the same film, the lens we viewed it through was very different.   

Some people go to the movies with an eye for beauty. I’m not that artistic. Other people appreciate an outstanding performance by a single actor, which Natalie Portman delivered.  

But I realized that my single purpose for seeing a movie is basic. 

I’m a sucker for the story.  The simpler, the better.

True Grit tells the tale of a young girl who seeks to avenge her beloved father’s killer with a little help from her flawed friends. It is story I could hear repeatedly in different forms until my dying day. Hope, against all obstacles, is still alive and well.

While my love for rustic stories may reveal my shrinking IQ, it explains a few of the other craggy features from my past.

Italians are natural-born storytellers. Growing up, we would sit around our kitchen table. My dad would carve the peel off his apple in one long, winding strip while he spun his tales of life in the old country.  

Whether these stories were fact or myth really didn’t matter. When that peel would land on his sauce-stained plate, the rest of our family would wait for a slice of that apple—and the punchline to the story.

While planting a lifelong addiction to pasta, my parents also instilled a hunger for story hour at the dinner table. 

I wouldn’t trade either of those cravings for anything in the world. Listening to a good anecdote adds spice to my dreary day. It also explains my attraction to anyone who can spin a good yarn.

After being traumatized by Black Swan, I embraced the warmth of a friend who brings me back to those days sitting at the dinner table listening my dad. Nobody captures my attention like my 90-year-old best friend on earth, whose name I will guard like the treasure that she is.  

My golden gal shook her head at the rapt attention I paid to each word she delivered.

“Somebody up there must have sprinkled pixie dust over the two of us to explain our friendship,” she said to me as I sat by her side after her recent trip to the hospital.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I told her, holding her strong, knobby hand. “You are my beacon of light!”

God gave me a gift, and I intended to open it.

The stories my elderly friend imparts to me are as unique as the lines etched on her charming face. When she talks about her husband of more than 55 years, I can tell their life was like a magic carpet ride. He passed away several years ago. She considers him a rock star.  

“The doctors tell me I’m gonna break all the age records,” she says, her smile lit with joy. “But I just want to go fly with my husband!”

I held her hand tighter to anchor her to me. She told me about the the time she and her husband drove to California on a whim to say goodbye to Yosemite. They were in their late 70s.  

As my friend delivered her story, no special effects were necessary. The tales she told projected the experiences of her luminous life: WWII, five children (one sadly lost), the love of a lifetime and thousands of family dinners.  

There was no botox needed, no Hollywood gimmicks. Just honest-to-goodness flesh and bone. I treasured our time together.

Maybe my hunger for hope on the big screen is a little out of step with society right now. I’ll have to settle for the stories I am lucky enough to hear during my occasional telephone chats with my elderly friend while I stand at the stove cooking dinner.  

Recently, when I told her I had to hang up to call the kids to dinner, she reminded me with love, “Oh! Treasure every moment at that dinner table together.”

At dinner I took pause. I imagined that one day I would be lying in bed, calling to my husband and reviewing the life story that put grooves on my face. 

I took my friend’s advice to heart and think of it often.

I doubt True Grit will win best picture, but it’s my choice by a mile. It’s not glitzy or glossy or free from cracks. But it does contain my favorite line from any movie this year in its opening scene.

“Nothing’s for sure in this world except the grace of God.”  

And it reminds me, in it’s final line, what my elderly angel reminds me of each time we are together. 

“Time just gets away from you.”

I sat down to dinner, dished out another bowl of pasta and narrated my day.

It was a simple story—about a girl who found true grit in a dear old friend.

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