My grandmother carefully placed the large white soup tureen on the table. When she began to lift the top, the moment of truth was upon us. If white steam billowed out the top, we’d be eating mushroom-barley soup—and have a new Pope, according to a family joke that compared the tureen to the Sistine Chapel (it’s hard to explain, as family jokes tend to be). But if no steam rose, then all jokes aside, it was time to celebrate: Cold cherry soup was on the menu.
Throughout my childhood and into my high school years, every Friday night was spent at my grandparents’ house in Montreal, where nearly twenty people—cousins, aunts, uncles, and the occasional friend and/or visiting relatives, all gathered for dinner. Like clockwork, the lot of us squeezed around that same carved wooden dining room table each week to partake in the family specialties of feasting and fighting—an inevitable side effect of cramming so many of us together in such a confined space.