Michael Tucker and his wife Jill Eikenberry are enjoying the early years of retirement in their dream house, a beautiful 350-year-old stone farmhouse in the central Italian province of Umbria, but Jill's mother Lora is a constant source of worry. Lora is eighty-seven and her second husband of many years, Ralph, has just turned ninety-one. Jill is traveling frequently to Lora and Ralph's home in Santa Barbara from the Tucker's pied-a-terre in New York, disrupting their plans to vacation in Italy for 6 months of the year. The elderly couple (Lora and Ralph, that is) have transitioned from independent living to an Assisted Care facility in Santa Barbara; Ralph has just had a third heart attack and suffers from chronic back pain, while Lora is beginning to slip mentally and is nearly deaf, although she refuses to wear a hearing aid.
In fact, the couple is preparing to take a much needed three-month vacation in Italy when life gets in the way. Michael and Jill must visit Lora and Ralph in Santa Barbara, making sure that everything in the elders' lives is in order--their finances, their caretaking situation, their apartment. The couple then returns to Italy for much-needed respite, and prepare to be joined by their friends, the Shechtmans and the Liedermans. In preparation, Michael and Jill drive into town and purchase tickets for a symphony concert of the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra in the magnificent Spoleto Cathedral, a program that is part of the celebrated Spoleto Festival. After a fabulous meal at one of their favorite restaurants, Jill and Michael walk home and as they prepare to get to bed Jill learns the terrible news that Ralph has passed away.
Jill has received the call from Josie, Ralph's caretaker, that he has died--he has suffered a series of small yet fatal strokes--and Jill calls her mother and breaks the news, as Lora has not yet been told. Michael is able to book tickets for the couple to fly home, and calls his children, who will also travel to California to be with Lora. When they get there, a lot is to be done. Ralph is cremated, and Michael and Jill must meet with Ralph's daughter Kathy and review Ralph's finances, and meanwhile must take control over Lora's finances and medical insurance. Lora has many friends in Santa Barbara, and they assure the Tuckers that they will care for Jill's mom, and so Michael and Jill return to Italy to resume their life.
What happens next is a brilliant surprise that neither Michael nor Jill could have expected or planned. Lora decides to move from her home in Santa Barbara to New York City, and finds an apartment in the building in which Michael and Jill live. Then Michael and Jill's children, Alison and Max, decide not only to relocate to Manhattan but also move in together, reuniting the Tucker/Eikenberry clan after years of separation.
Michael Tucker brings alive the joys and challenges that families give us. "Family Meals" is a heart-warming, beautifully told story of his own unique family and the journeys each of them have taken. It is a book that addresses a fact of life all of us will face--aging--with remarkable charm, sympathy and warmth, and a celebratory book that explores the responsibility we have to our families. It is also a book that explores the different ways that families experience life--how different clans and different cultures celebrate, support, care and mourn.