Monday, February 24, 2014

The Table And The Good China

The heavy table with its rounded edges and shiny Formica top was pushed tight up against the wall and centered between the framed out kitchen window of the farm house I grew up in. It was there that I learned about the everyday and the importance of meeting at the table. My mom probably didn't think that serving eggs with bacon, tomato soup sided with grilled cheese sandwiches or meatloaf and mashed potatoes topped with lumpy gravy, on her tiny blue flower Corelle dishes, would mean so much in the whole scheme of life.

But I think it did.

She didn't feel like serving the almost 20,000 meals to me in those short eighteen years in her home, but she did. And she did it for years before I arrived and for decades after I departed. In fact the very day that I dropped in to see how she was doing, since she had contracted an upper respiratory infection, my dad was a little out of sorts because it was 5:00 p.m. and she wasn't cooking him supper. She and I both missed that meal as we drove to the doctor and then on to the emergency room. The fact is, mom would never cook another meal, because she passed away unexpectedly, three days later.

That's how life is.

You are going along thinking that life will always be a certain way and then one day it isn't.

For my dad, one of the hardest, daily reminders of mom’s earthly absence, is at meal time.

This Saturday I called him to see if we could lunch. He hates to eat alone, so that is usually a good way to spend time with him. There was a pause at the other end of the line. I know too, that he gets weary of eating out. So I begin to do what I do best when things are a little awkward, -I ramble on, because I'm a verbal processor who can talk and answer my own questions. "..Oh you are probably just sick of eating out.." "Do you have plans?" "Hey what if we do 4:00 at my house?" "Ya.... just come out to my house I'll find something to eat for the two of us....."

He does what Dads do well when they are tired of eating alone and eating out and agrees that he could make that work.

After hanging up, I shook my head, because I hadn't made it to the grocery store like I intended earlier in the week. I have a self-imposed rule to stay out of those places on the weekend when other people have to be there. After shuffling around I came up with two pathetic pork-chops. Who knew how long they had eluded being found in this freezer of ours.  Like small unappealing slabs of rock, I decided they were my best bet for company in three hours. My favorite earthenware roaster, the one I found years ago for $1, was retrieved from the closet that desperately needs reorganized. It makes me look like I'm a good cook. The meat hit the bottom with a clink. I poured a can of cream of mushroom soup with a little water over the top, then add a potato. I didn't even have a carrot to add into the mix.

With that in the oven, I went about doing the things I already had planned to do that day. Less than an hour before my dad was supposed to arrive, I was remembering my mom. Some days you just miss people more than others. And I was thinking about the legacy she left me.

The legacy of how I love to show hospitality in my home.

How she equipped me with the tools to put a meal together and not over-think the details.

How life and dining were always a bit more about the being together than the presentation and the fuss.

Placing the salt and pepper on the table I caught a glimpse of moms china in the corner cabinet. I don't remember our family ever using them. Neither does my dad. It was just last fall that dad gave one set of hand-painted china, made by a family friend to my sister and the set that my Uncle Tom had shipped back home from his tour in Japan was given to me.

And when do you use fine china purchased in Japan over half a century ago?

Pulling one plate out, I ran my finger on the delicate edge of silver and thought that today would be a good day. An ordinary day could be a little bit extra ordinary perhaps.

Suddenly my small pork chops looked a little more inviting. Digging around in the refrigerator I unearthed the fresh cut pineapple which had been pushed behind the carton of milk. The fruit looked quite different in the silver rimmed saucer topped with a small leaf of spinach. The salad we had made earlier in the week was a masterpiece when plated one dish stacked on another. Just recently I had read of a simple chocolate mousse which called for a hand full of melted chocolate chips, one tablespoon of honey folded into freshly beaten whipping cream. You cannot really go wrong with fresh whipped cream and chocolate. I gathered a few things for a make-shift centerpiece and add a small candle.

Just like my dad with his tough exterior, when he arrived, he never seemed to notice that this meal was any different, than any meal he'd ever eaten on any other day. And maybe it wasn't.

We set aside the things that tugged on our hearts and minds and sat face to face at this wooden slab of a table. This altar of sorts, a place to gather and be refreshed. A place to celebrate the simplicity and the gift of food and conversation and each other. The modern day altar where we celebrate the goodness, the bounty and the mercy we have received. And when he asked me to, that's how I prayed before we ate.

Dad and I talk casually about things that had been, things that are, and things that might someday be.

The sound of silverware hitting fine china has a different kind of ring to it. It sounds like freedom. And the single flame flickered a dance on a cold overcast day, while two people shared a meal in all it's simplicity and complexity in meaning. 

The time at the table was a reminder to me of the importance of gathering, of sharing a meal and not waiting another fifty-six years to break out the good china on an ordinary day. 

Part of the legacy my mom established was her daily diligence and coming to the table. The gathering for each meal at the very heart of her home. It is a legacy I hope my children and grandchildren and their children after them, embrace.

And you.

~ What are your table memories?

~ How can we make sharing a meal in our homes more of an experience?


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© Rhonda Quaney