Last weekend I surprised my mother by showing up unannounced on Mother’s Day. She knew two of my sisters would be there, but was not expecting me to roll through the door at church Sunday morning. Her eyes welled with tears as she gave me a hug, saying “Thank you for a wonderful surprise.”
Her expression of thanks was not unexpected. I was raised in a family which practices gratitude and celebration frequently. Little gestures taught me the importance of being thankful for each day. Many of these lessons were learned around the kitchen table.
I have heard the story of how my parents acquired their table many times. Fifty seven years ago, Mom and Dad purchased their house. Shortly after moving in they bought the table, six chairs, and a large upright piano from an acquaintance who was moving. For $60 they gained furniture which became the heart of the house.
The table has seen a variety of uses through the years. All of the pattern pieces for every dress I made throughout high school and college were cut on that table. Dad has ground venison and pork into sausage on the side of that table after many succesful hunting seasons. In the early years of my family cookie bake, we covered the table with flour and sugar. There is a section of the table where you can see newsprint in the varnish – the result of one of my sisters attempting to iron something quickly on the table using a towel on top of an old newspaper.
We have gathered around the table in sadness. When my aunt called to tell us my grandfather had died, I saw Dad fall into a chair at the table and bury his face in his hands. In seventh grade I sat at the table with Mom, hugging her as she sobbed after receiving the news of her youngest brother’s death. I remember gathering at the table one summer when my sister’s friend Bill came to visit a few months before he died of AIDS. On Sunday Mom and I held hands across the table as we cried, sharing memories of my sister Mary Jane.
The table has also seen great celebrations. Birthday parties, anniversary dinners, holiday meals and family visits bring us all together. Leaves are added to accommodate extra guests making the table so long it is nearly impossible to open the refrigerator door.
Mom’s table is always covered by a tablecloth, unless friends have come for the weekly card game. Some nights during high school, Mom would surprise us by setting the table for dinner using the “good china” and a fancy tablecloth. When asked about the reason for the special dishes, she would always say something like, “It’s Tuesday, we’re eating together and I love you. That’s enough of a reason.” Fancy things didn’t need to be reserved just for guests. We were worthy of special treatment too.
Everyone is welcome to eat at Mom and Dad’s table. If you stop by for a visit, you will be given a seat and offered food repeatedly. It doesn’t matter if you say no – food has been known to just appear. Even if the kitchen is full of people, there is always room for one more and guests are made to feel welcome.
Last week I stayed for Sunday dinner with my parents. As I was setting the table, Mom told me to plan to sit at the head of the table. This space, usually reserved for my father, would allow me room to pull my wheelchair up to the table without needing to worry about accidentally running over Dad’s oxygen tubing. I questioned her because not once in my life have I ever sat at “Dad’s place” at the table. She assured me this would be easier for him.
As the three of us gathered for dinner, we bowed our heads to pray. Sitting in a different place offered me a new perspective on the table, the kitchen, my parents. I thought of all the meals served on this table over the years. Three meals a day for fifty seven years – 20,805 days – is an amazing 62,415 meals. Sure, there have been days and weeks where the table sat empty as my parents traveled. But think of the stories that table could tell if it were able to talk!
A rough calculation let me know I have said prayers of gratitude at the table for at least 12,000 of those 62,415 meals. As I professed thankfulness again last week I made a pledge to myself to return for more meals at my parents’ table. I get the sense it is waiting for a story teller who will listen.