Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Short Personal Essay Coming in Sunstone

Here's a brief little essay I recently wrote for Sunstone magazine. By the way, Sunstone is moving in a good direction, so if you've never tried it before or found it too weird in the past, I recommend taking a look at the magazine and symposium. I don't agree with everything I read or hear through Sunstone, but I sure value the forum.

Turning the Table

When my parents first offered us the table, we weren't sure we wanted it. For one thing, it is dark brown, similar to the 1970s wood paneling in our upstairs family room adjacent to our dining area. My wife and I had been planning to eventually cover or remove this dated paneling, not acquire a big dining table to stylistically extend the theme.

Further, this dark, hulking table and its matching chairs are coated with calcified—nearly fossilized—grime and goo from thirty years of heavy use. This is the table at which, as the oldest of ten children, I grew up eating meals. My main memory of those meals is wolfing down food while eyeing pots and bowls and worrying about whether I'd get seconds. We were such a large group that most conversation was fragmented into groups, with only occasional all-family bulletins shouted across the din. If you sat in the middle of a long side, you did a lot of passing.

At some point, one of my brothers—the one who's now making me look bad by comparison as he does his neurology residency at Yale—carved his name not so much into the table edge itself but into the layers of culinary history that had formed over the wood. Worse, in recent years, my family used the chairs as painting stools without covering them, so they are all splattered with various colors.

Yet this high-quality furniture is still structurally sound and functional, and my own nuclear family has outgrown our six-person table. So just a month or so ago, my wife and I agreed to accept my childhood table and chairs into our home, and I find that they have captured my imagination. As I watch my eight-year-old slurp spaghetti at the new-old table, I wonder how many times I sat at that same spot and what my inner life was like at each juncture. I try to fathom what a time-lapse film of the table's entire occupied history would look like. I picture all the food ever served upon the table piled into one enormous heap.

Just as my wife has done with the other baggage I've brought into our marriage—a previous marriage with two adopted children, a taste for edgy Mormon culture—she is now making the best of my childhood table and chairs, painstakingly scrubbing them clean, sanding them down, and staining and lacquering them. She hasn't tried sanding off my brother's name yet—if it doesn't come off, he'll soon be able to easily afford a brand-new table for us.

In the same way that the widow who lived in our current house for thirty years before us still haunts it—her perfume lingers deep inside certain upstairs closets, and when we go on vacation this scent reclaims the entire house—I imagine that the spirit of my childhood family will continue infusing this table, hopefully bringing to my own kids the same overall good karma that it brought us. All ten siblings are alive, healthy, gainfully educated and employed, and active Church members—in fact, nine out of ten served missions.

It turns out that the dark chocolate table and chairs of my youth somehow go unexpectedly well with this house's moss-green carpet. But where will we all sit now for big family dinners up at Grandma and Grandpa's house? Oh, wait—now I get it. Honey, you better buy a whole ham for Christmas!

Note: For the record, since I wrote this my parents have continued having lots of us over for dinner even without the big old family table.


Alb said...

I'm glad you have someone who loves you enough to haul around and/or get rid of your luggage. Yes, I do but that grease was pretty gross (no offense Mitzie-I'm impressed that you were able to feed them, let alone clean up after them).

Anonymous said...

I have actually made a conscious effort to avoid sitting on those chairs for at least the last decade because my butt always stuck to the seat thanks to some recent or ancient grime or liquid matter. Ditto on the no offense comment Mom.