All great change in America begins at the dinner table. -Ronald Reagan
I am a person with guilt. Often over little things, like the time I threw a fit because my mom bought be the wrong clippie stuffed animal. I believe I was 4 at the time. I still have guilt over that.
I’m also a person with regret. I don’t generally dwell on things, but there are a few that I can’t let go of, and my grandparents’ table is one of them. Or rather, the table they used to have. They are both gone now, making that long-lost table seem all the more precious.
Many years ago they moved from their lifelong home and auctioned off many of their possessions. I knew at the time that I wanted that table, but I was a college student with a small apartment and no space for a second table. Like an idiot I kept mine (from Value City Furniture – good call Heather) and let theirs go, and to this day I feel sick to my stomach when I think of it. It’s no antique; in fact, it was a cheap table in mediocre condition with absolutely no monetary value. But if I had any way of knowing where that table was now, I’d pay top dollar to have it back.
I’m thinking of it tonight because I found a paper I wrote in college. The assignment was to write one page about a perfectly ordinary, inanimate object and make the reader care. And to this day, I care very deeply about that table.
There is a table at my grandparents’ house. This plain, brown, worn-out old table is a treasure to the two beautiful people who own it. No one in the world means more to me than them, and no thing in the world means more to them than that table.
The furniture itself is not the treasure; the table is a symbol of love and family. The backs of the chairs are worn and faded from years of heavy use. On hot summer days their finish softens, and shirts cling to the moist varnish. The arms of the chairs are worn down from years of rough treatment and not-so-gentle hands pushing them back under the table. The table’s legs are nicked and scratched, and it is by no means considered beautiful. Appearances aren’t everything, though. Few material possessions could hold more beauty than does the table in Grama’s kitchen.
Pap doesn’t fully understand why she won’t let it go. The table, or half of the other furniture that Grama loves so dearly. To this day I can hear them bickering over the old ironing board, so well-worn that it must be propped up on the counter to be used. My father’s clothes were ironed on that same board forty-odd years ago. Pap says that they should buy a new one, but Grama refuses. “For memory’s sake,” I can hear her explaining over and over again, but Pap just shakes his head. No one really understands like Grama.
For every aging piece of furniture that she clings to there is a story. There is a story that makes the ironing board worth putting up with, and the ugly table worth holding on to. I can remember when Grama decided to put a new cover on the stool in the kitchen – the one that sits in front of the paper plate drawer. It always sits in front of the paper plate drawer, most inconveniently, and for no reason other than that’s where it’s always been. For years, every time their decor changed, the stool cover changed, one layer on top of another. Not so long ago the covers all came off. Everyone laughed at the dozen or so different layers of material, but not Grama. No one else quite understands. A new cover went on, and the stool is now at home in a new corner of the kitchen. It’s just not the same.
The table is the most talked about, though. Everyone laughs, and they say they can appreciate her sentiment, but no one really does. No one knows like Grama.
Twenty years ago, two beautiful little girls crawled underneath that table and decorated. There are still pencil scratchings bearing the names of Amy and Beth, joined years later by the artwork of their little sister. The family laughs at the mischief and moves on. No one understands.
Two other little girls have joined the family since then, and I wonder where their names are. Some may call it destruction, but to Grama it’s making memories. Maybe we should show them where to write.
Maybe no one understands, but there is no denying the love in my Grama’s treasures. What some look at as just ordinary furniture are some of her most prized possessions.
And to tell the truth, I think Pap does understand. Sure, he’s not as vocal, not as teary-eyed or sentimental as Grama, but he also overestimates his ability to hide his emotions. For all of his harassment, I know that Pap must understand or new things would have moved in long ago.
But still…no one understands like Grama.
We all appreciate that someone cares for us so deeply. We love the comfortable, homey feeling of Grama’s house. But no one really understands like she does.
I want to. I want desperately to understand, to have the same memories and the same sentiments that my Grama does. My parents told me once that I inherited her heart, and there is no bigger compliment that they could pay me.
Just thinking about Saturday mornings with Pap and Grama, Coco Wheats and bacon, riding through Seven Creeks in the back of Pap’s pickup, playing Trouble, sneaking into Pap’s Twinkies, and falling asleep on their shaggy brown carpet can make me cry. I know nothing better in the world.
There are a million moments with my grandparents that I treasure, a million memories and a million hugs that I could never forget. But nothing feels as good as going ‘home’ to their house, and no thing will ever be as precious as that old kitchen table.
I ache with longing to see them again. To sit at that long-gone table and share one more meal, play one more game. I would give almost anything to have that table today. But I don’t, and I can’t change that.
The only thing left to do is create a table of my own, one memory at a time. And today, that is exactly what we did.