We certainly did not have a table big enough to set, so we simply stacked dishes and utensils, buffet-style. As the guest list grew, we added paper plates and plastic utensils. It was always my job to announce that dinner was ready. As people entered the dining room, they gasped at the sight of my mother’s table. Her zereshk polow, barberry rice, made many emotional. There are no fresh barberries in America (my mother had brought dried berries from Iran in her suitcase), and the sight of that dish, with its distinct deep red hue, was a reminder of the life our guests had left behind.
Our dinners took days to cook and disappeared in 20 minutes. As our guests heaped their plates and looked for a place to sit, they lavished praise on my mother, who, according to tradition, deflected it all. “It’s nothing,” she said. “I wish I could’ve done more.” When they told her how lucky she was to have me to help her, my mother politely nodded, while my father added, “Firoozeh’s good at math.”
On Sundays, my mother lay on the sofa, her swollen feet elevated, fielding thank-you phone calls from our guests. She had the same conversation a dozen times; each one ended with, “Of course you can give our name to your cousins.” As I watched my mother experience the same draining routine week after week, I decided that tradition is good only if it brings joy to all involved. This includes the hostess. Sometimes, even our most cherished beliefs must evolve. Evolution, thy name is potluck.