Long years ago, I catered lunch at the offices of a medical practice, three days a week. I'd met one of the doctors at several parties we'd done, and we'd catered in her home quite a few times.
She called one day and asked if we could get together and discuss lunch for the office---she and her partners had a staff of about 12, and they had an enormous conference table in a private room of their office, as well as a little kitchenette---sink, water cooler, Mr. Coffee, microwave, postage-stamp counter space. She is a quiet, calm woman, who speaks of nurturing her patients and staff, caring about their welfare, making their lives as pleasant and fulfilling as she can, with a welcoming workplace and pleasant surroundings.
It worked out well---I carried in china, glasses, silver for twelve; she had her dressmaker make an enormous oval vinyl tablecloth which just needed spraydown and wiping after each meal. My only request was a list of cleanup supplies for the kitchen, and that I could have the A/C on high as I did the dishes, way back there in that tiny closed room. I would drive over in my little blue wagon, haul out my cute red dolly, load it with three big RedMan picnic baskets---usually one hot, one cold, and one miscellaneous---and wheel in lunch.
I gave them menus to choose from: Soups and sandwiches and salads, or Chef's Salad, a Taco salad lunch with big bowls of add-ons (black beans, cheese, chips to crush, green onion tops, sour cream, salsas, etc.) and fruit salad lunch (lovely plate of fresh-cut fruit with a big bowl of cottage cheese, some thin deli ham rolled around cream cheese, and warm cornbread or cheese muffins. I would arrange the fruit plates in the kitchen and set them down before announcing lunch, and I always sliced a banana onto each plate, right at the last minute. One day, I missed one banana, and since we were a comfy, informal group, I stood beside her, slicing it directly onto her plate. She was one of the older nurses, and she leaned on my side and said, "I love this---it's just like being back at Mama's table."
And I think that was the allure of it---a group of hard-working women, homes and families depending on them to keep the home running, just taking an hour during the busy day to let someone "mother" them for a change. They even closed the office 1-to-2 p.m. every time, so there were no appointments to intrude.
We'd have a fried-chicken dinner now and then---a splurge on their diets, I suppose, but I knew who liked which piece, and made real mashed potatoes and nice little green peas. I think the nearest they ever came to being prissy over the meal was one day I served a taco salad, and they all prepared and ate theirs just as they liked. I took away the plates, returned with dessert dishes, and set down an enormous warm nutmeggy/vanilla bread pudding, with two boxes of Kool Whip (well you have to draw the line for SOME convenience, sometime). They just pounced on it, each judiciously eyeing each others' portion, and making sure everyone got equal shares. And they scraped the pan.
And, since the three doctors all loved Southern cooking, we DID have collards now and then, with candied sweet potatoes and baked ham and maybe a spicy slaw. Cornbread, of course, though I did bake it in a 9x13 instead of a black skillet.
I think of that group often---their lives and how they all gathered in that office every day to tend to the sick and look after their patients. They were smart, hard-working people who were kind to me and appreciative of my cooking. And I sometimes miss being "Mama" to that big table of folks who came to be like family.