My Grandmother's Table
I love the sound of ice clinking in their glasses. Any glass will do, but my favorites are my grandmother’s thick red ones in which she would serve iced tea. She would let the sun bake the tea out back on her picnic table and then, as we drank it over a meal, she would periodically get up just to refill our ice. I can still remember the way that her hands looked as she scooped handfuls of ice out – long skinny fingers (I have the same ones) with her three rings that would move side to side and that were never lined up sitting inside of one another. I always liked the way that looked and sometimes move my three bands slightly askew just because of it.
We would all sit down together during a meal – there were never people sitting on the floor or on a couch, but my Grandmother would make sure that she’d prepared places for each diner and she always knew exactly how to cook dishes for the right amount of time and in the right order so that they’d all end up warm together.
The part of the meal that still stands out to me the most though is when we would pray God’s blessing on it and on our time together. Now, some people make light of the prayer before the meal, but I love that pause when we’re all there and praying together before a meal. We’re gathered hand in hand and making ourselves wait while the fragrance of fresh baked bread and creamy mashed potatoes hits us in waves.
Always, and I mean always, after a prayer when we would all un-bow our heads, my grandmother’s eyes would be watery and a bit red. Each time I would look for her eyes at the end of the prayer to see if it she would prove that true, and each time she did. When I was little I wondered what she was thinking about. I wondered if she missed her husband who had passed away when my dad and his siblings were just teenagers. I wondered if it had something to do with even just closing her eyes. Only as I’ve become and adult, a wife, and a mother can I understand. I do the same thing. It’s the same reason that I can hardly make it through a church service (any church service) without shedding tears for God’s goodness and for community, for my family and my friends, for my husband and my children. I’m simply overwhelmed in my heart and it leaks out my eyes. Pausing to pray and take in the fact that we’ve all, from our various walks of life, made it back into Grandmother’s kitchen to sit around the table laughing, praying, and eating was too good to put into words. Tears were the only way to “describe” it. Feel it. Thank God for it.
I love the way that my grandmother appreciated the simple things – homemade quilts on which we would have slumber parties, keeping the doors unlocked (sometimes I would try to lock them when she wasn’t looking… I mean, I was a city girl), listening to us practice our hymn-playing on the piano, not turning the window air-conditioner on in the summer (much to our chagrin and to our sneaking in to sleep under that window unit), and reading the clues and participating in our scavenger hunts and plays. I remember one times when we passed a “Big Lots” and I pointed it out, she called it “big lots of junk” and I know that she would hate the fact that I can spend an hour in the dollar store and a day at IKEA. She didn’t clutter her house with knick knacks which would overwhelm the house, but let the really important things be the first thing you’d see when you’d walk in – pictures of her family, beautiful furniture, organized shelves and closets, dry cleaning bags and tags over her hanging dress clothes that told me how much she respected and appreciated the things she owned, and just enough dishes that it was easy for all of us to help in the kitchen because we knew right where to get things out and right where to put them away. We always did the dishes together after the meal before we sat down with more ice tea. One washer, one drier, and one putter-awayer.
My favorite memories though have to do with the afternoons at her house when we would start baking bread and while it mixed in the bread machine we would listen to the churning while we played canasta, waiting the whole time for the next part of the process. And then, when it was time, we would get it out, roll it open, spread the raisins and cinnamon on it, form it to fit as a loaf in a bread pan and then let it rest and rise some more. While it rose we would play dominoes with pennies. And then, when it was time, we would put the risen bread into the oven and while the bread baked and sent the smell of pure goodness into the whole house, we would sit at the kitchen table playing Kings in the Corner with one eye on the cards and one eye peering through into the lit-up oven window while we tried to keep our bottoms on the chairs in anticipation of the delicious bread. And then, when it was time, we would get it out of the oven to cool for a bit and Grandmother would send my brother down into the basement to get the homemade strawberry jelly in the little white tupperwares out of her extra freezer and she would get her electric knife out to carve perfectly straight pieces of bread. And then, when it was time, we would put the butter and cold jam onto our warm bread and taste a bite of heaven.
I can’t explain how much I miss my grandmother and how much I miss those times together, but I know that someday, when it is time, we will gather around the table again and, for now, I will keep tearing up at prayer times and try to keep my bottom on the chair in anticipation of all that is to come.