le mobile feast

A year ago, I attended the first On Being Gathering.  In an earlier posting about the weekend, I mentioned that I spent four hours around a fire pit one day, meeting new people and learning about them.  I wrote, “One of those encounters led to an amazing evening a few weeks later, which I will write about at a later date.”  Now is the time for the rest of the story.

The person sitting across the fire from me was Steve Le.  On his website, he describes himself this way:  “I am a writer, a cook, a story collector, and a traveler.  Throughout 2016, 2017, and 2018, I traveled through the country to cook dinner parties in every state and collect stories from my hosts and our dinner guests.”  He plans to release a book next year about his experiences.

One of the first things I said to him during our discussion was that I would be reluctant to have him meet my wife.  Sue loves a road trip, cooking (and eating) good food, and meeting new people.  Plus, Steve is younger and cuter than me.  I wasn’t sure I would ever see her again.

Steve called his journey, still ongoing at the time I met him, Le Mobile Feast.  When he completed it at the end of last year, he had served 259 meals in 157 places in all fifty states.  (You can see the maps of his travels here.)

I wanted nothing more than to experience one of those dinners, and I got my chance not long thereafter when Steve happened to come to Minneapolis.  The evening was hosted by someone I had met briefly at the On Being event, and included people who had also been there and some “significant others,” including Sue.

Steve prepared a wonderful dinner (paella and other dishes; he has posted some of his recipes online).  After the usual small talk, we got down to business.  Steve set out some ground rules:  One at a time, we were to talk about ourselves and our lives.  Others weren’t allowed to make comments, but could ask questions.  There was no time limit or prescribed topics.  Once one person was finished, she or he selected the next person to talk.

It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

How often do we get a chance to talk honestly about who we are?  As odd as it seems, it may be easier to do so in front of strangers, although by the end of the night we weren’t strangers any more.  We had shared ourselves with each other.  (And we did so well past the Brakkes’ normal bedtime; none of us wanted the night to end.)

Since Steve’s focus was listening to us, we didn’t hear much about him at the dinner, although I’ve learned more through emails and blog postings and Facebook updates.  His family has an interesting history, in Vietnam and the United States.  He graduated from the Naval Academy and has had a variety of pursuits in his relatively young life.  After meeting him at an event, a retired physician told Steve, “You’re doing all kinds of things you weren’t trained to do.  Now that’s the good life.”  His spirit of adventure is infectious, as is his genuine interest in others.

After leaving Minneapolis, Steve headed to the Dakotas.  When I heard he was going to be in Sioux Falls, I contacted him to say that since he would be a half hour from Luverne he needed to pay a visit.  (He and the others who had gathered for Le Mobile Feast heard plenty of tales about our hometown from Sue and me.)  Steve wondered if there was someone who could show him around.  I knew just the person.

Sue met up with Steve in Luverne and they spent several hours together there, seeing the sights.  Given his military background and Vietnamese heritage, the Rock County Veterans Memorial and Herreid Military Museum were must-sees; they also visited the Brandenburg Gallery, Fred Manfred’s house on the Blue Mounds overlooking the town, and the bison herd at the state park.  Then there were some of the spots that had been referenced during the dinner weeks before, among them the Palace Theatre and the sidewalk where Sue and I had first seen each other when I moved back to town, an encounter that got plenty of play that night.

Steve subsequently sent everyone from the dinner a picture that he had taken of the “famous” sidewalk.  In his note, he said, “In the movie Field of Dreams, the character Doc Graham says about his hometown, Chisholm, MN:  ‘Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again.’  I got that sense from Sue’s tour about Luverne.”

Despite the reservation that I had proclaimed around the campfire, Sue returned home and Steve continued on to complete his journey.  He is now combing through his notes, molding stories and ideas from the nearly two thousand people he nourished into a book.  I can’t wait to read it.  It is sure to be a moving story of the United States and its people.

While we haven’t all gotten together since that dinner, some of us have gathered once, with more meetings to come.  Hopefully Steve will be able to join us sometime.

I don’t make friends very easily.  I would have never expected when I sat down at that fire pit that it would lead to a new group of friends and some wonderful experiences for Sue and me.

Each of the feasts around the country that Steve prepared during his travels was fleeting, but the emotional and spiritual sustenance he cooked up on our behalf will last all of us a good long time.

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