Friday, January 18, 2013

Ode to a Kitchen Table

A friend of mine who is a priest in Los Angeles posed a question on Facebook the other day.  He asked what object represented intimacy, not sexual intimacy, but the intimacy that comes from being in relationship with someone for a long time.  He was working on a sermon about something that I didn't pay attention to, but the question struck me.

And I immediately knew what my answer was.  The object that represents relational intimacy to me most is a kitchen table.  Certainly some specific kitchen tables, including my own, but also the kitchen table of history and of life.

First night of semester exams
We never hung out at the kitchen table much when I was growing up -- the breakfast room was back in a corner of the house, there wasn't much going on in the kitchen in the first place, and the dining room table was reserved only for holiday dinners, when my grandparents came to town, and the mail.  But in my house, the kitchen table is the center of all things.  It may be because I don't allow food upstairs.  It may be because I don't allow television during the week or the computer is down here or there's a comfy couch nearby for reading.  It may be because our kitchen table is where everybody is together most of the time.  It may be because my children can't go ten feet inside a door without dropping their shit everywhere and that's the closest place.  Who's to say?

But for whatever the reason, everything gets done at the kitchen table.  Eating, talking, crafts, projects, and homework, lots and lots of homework over the years.  And it makes me happy.  G has a desk in her room and does her fair share of cocooning, but usually only on the weekends.  S has never had a desk and when asked if she wanted a cool piece of furniture to use as a pull-down desk, she said she'd never use it because she always does her homework downstairs.

The table is where our family is a family.  And although T is gone most of the week, what I find deeply moving is that his place is always laid with a napkin (when there are any) and his place is always cleared.  The kids usually don't dump their books and papers there.  They'll dump their stuff on my place, but I'm around to clean it up.  Daddy's place is sacred.  I love that.  It's like the empty chair for Elijah at a Jewish Seder.  Keeping his place means he's always with us, even when he's away.

And I deeply love this table, too.  I especially love it when no one is here.  It's cleaned off and the napkins (when there are any) are folded.  And there are several more hours that it will stay that way because no one is here.  It is a place of infinite possibility:  newspaper reading, emailing, writing, reading, coffee drinking making to-do lists and including things you've already done so you can cross them off.  Wait.  What?

Kids' first day back to school a/k/a hooray!

And I love other people's kitchen tables, too.  My stuffy Florida grandmother's kitchen table had a butter dish that you were forbidden to get crumbs into - hello, butter knife!  But I can still smell the heavy scent of my grandfather's dark rye bread on all those summer mornings.  My mother-in-law's kitchen table has seen any number of looooong family gatherings - we are outgrowing her small apartment now that our kids have become adult-sized, but that table carries so many wonderful memories.  And it will continue to.

My best friend's kitchen table is a huge round, but we always sat right next to each other and drank coffee on those endless mornings when our kids were little and sucking the souls out of us.  We drank coffee and talked about what we would do and where we would go when we didn't have toddlers.  New York!  Paris!  New Orleans!  Who cares?!  And now, we don't have toddlers anymore.  And our oldest ones are starting to figure out their college choices.  But the table that was once a life raft may well be again, for a different reason.

And that's okay.

I think.

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