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My Kitchen Table
Kitchens are inconsequential rooms. Things just simply do not happen there. Sure, they may be considered the most dangerous room of a house, what with fires and sharp knives, but they’re not interesting. All kitchens are the same: stove, oven, refrigerator, sink, over priced stone countertops. They leave no room for expression; plainly, they are the straight jackets of household rooms.
My kitchen table is a living biography. It is a testament to what occurred in my household over the last twenty-three years, since my parents bought the house after moving from New York City. Each one of my mother’s morning crossword puzzles is documented on its surface; my deceased dog’s scratch marks are worn into its strong legs; red, orange and blue spots speckle the top like an Easter egg, reminders of rainy-day crafts gone wrong on its trusty surface.
Kitchen tables are the one unique quality in a kitchen, a living, breathing creature with its own personality and history, an explanation for how it is. Our kitchen table is a bay, sway-backed mare, gentle and soft and willing to please. As it gets older, places creak under heavy loads, but it keep plodding along, reluctant to give up and turn the job over to a newer, younger table.
When we were younger, my brother and I would race the caps of our vitamin bottles over the top, trying to see who had the best aim to avoid the knot in the center and make it to the other side. The table would take it willingly. My older sister once dropped a lit match on the surface, leaving behind a scorch mark shaped like a daisy. The table bears it proudly, parading the scar like a medal won in battle.
The table tells other kinds of stories, too. My parents’ divorce was announced over its back, the two on one side and us three children on another, two united forces facing off to one another until we divided then and there; the table always brought us back though; Thanksgivings and Christmases usually united us once more, a family wrought into pieces. College applications were signed upon the table, teeth were lost, divorce papers signed, alimony received, report cards presented. The table boasted those moments proudly, bearing responsibility for our happiest moments.
If you could ask my table one of the most memorable nights, it would tell you of a dark December night in the thick of winter when the sun set at three. The dark wrapped around the house, cloaking it in a shroud of warm, comforting velvet. The table shone up at us, we who stood about it arguing about who should have to haul the trash through the snow. The table begged us not to argue, but it was a kitchen item and therefore unimportant. My brother, Michael, stood defiant, his hands fisted on his hips, when we told him the schedule said it was his week to take the trash out. He ran from the room, catching his foot on my mother’s discarded mop she had been cleaning the floors with—after the divorce, she did a lot of mopping around the table, she said it made her feel at peace. He went flying forward, his arms waving wildly until his forehead connected with the table’s corner. The pair shrieked in earnest, Michael clutching his forehead and the table longing to apologize and wrap him in its arms and tell him it would be all right. But it was a kitchen item, it was unimportant. Michael swore as he took his hands from his forehead to see blood and swore again as it ran down his nose and onto his shirt. He kicked the table, swearing again, and the table groaned its remorse. Drops of blood fell onto the table and it just sat there, accepting what it had done. Michael was big, tall and broad shouldered—a quarterback on the Varsity team—and the table cowered in his presence. He swore once more and sank down to a chair, accepting a towel my sister, Dina, had gotten for him and rested his cheek on the table’s cool surface.
Tables have a capability to do that, to calm you down with a simple touch. They are concrete and sturdy, something to lean on when you need it most. Our table could attest to that.
On the Thanksgiving of my senior year of high school, my parents decided to tuck away their animosity and have a huge, traditional Thanksgiving. Michael and Dina came home from college, my grandparents came up from Florida and over from California. The kitchen table was laden with food and we abandoned its comforting presence for the more elegant, pretentious company of our mahogany dinning room table. The table strained to look on, wishing to be closer to us as we spent quality time without it.
The dinning room table was never interesting, always too impersonal and reminding us that we had to put on the act of happiness. My parents saved the bickering for when they were in the kitchen, thinking that the relatives couldn’t hear. But we could, we heard every word. The kitchen table could do nothing to stop it; it was a kitchen item, it was unimportant.
“Nancy, you’re not cutting that pie right,” my father started off harshly.
“Oh, and you would know how to cut a pie?” my mother quipped.
“I know well enough to know when you’re not doing it right,”
“I spent seventeen years in a kitchen slaving away to cook you meals, I think I know how to cut a damn pie!”
“Well, I think I know better,”
“How would you know? You’ve never cooked a day in your life! You’re an irresponsible slacker, Jordan!” my mother screeched over the pie, the knife firmly in her grasp.
“You’re too self-involved! Every time I talk with the kids they say that they never did anything with you over the weekend. Can’t you think of anything better to do than to spend my alimony on Botox?” my father shouted as he slammed a stack of plates onto the table; the table whimpered under the abuse.
Back in the dinning room as they continued to hurl insults, the table there was glaring at my siblings and me for not stopping my parents from making a scene; we blushed under our relatives’ prying stares. I excused myself from the table, hurrying into the kitchen to see my parents there, over the table, fuming as they gestured wildly with cutlery; they had halted their abuse on the table for the moment.
“Mom, Dad, please! I thought you promised that this would be a good, memorable Thanksgiving. Mike and Dina are home from school, I’ll be leaving in a few months. And Nana’s beginning to think you’ve gone off your rockers. So just… let it be for a while?” I pleaded with them, taking the knives from their hands and laying them on the table, spreading my hands on its surface emphatically. The table was always the peacemaker.
“I guess, we have been a little… out of hand,” my mother responded sheepishly, glancing furtively at my father to catch him hanging his head.
“We’re sorry, sweetie,” my dad said softly, taking two pies in his hands and waiting for us to move into the dinning room. My mother followed with a tray of brownies and cake, trying to put on her ‘hostess face’ so that the family wouldn’t suspect what had gone on. I stayed for a moment, content to be near the table—the one that I had held onto when I took my first steps and had slept on the bar underneath when I played hide and seek with Michael—and was happy just to feel its sturdy comfort beneath my fingers and to thank it for all it’s done.