Everything is on the table

Our kitchen table is an heirloom in training.

Sitting alone at this table with open notebook, a pen, and a fresh cup of coffee in the early morning light of day I can, with an angular glance, see the extensive preparation and practice for remembrance that it has already put in. At a mere sixteen-years, the table is hardly an antique – yet its smooth, blonde-maple surface is already pockmarked with the memorable nicks and ruts left by stray utensils and homework-prodding pencils – stray treatises to family,  assorted Christmas cards and letters.

All embossed in memory and maple.

My wife and I assembled the table the first night we lived in a rural, southwestern Minnesota Victorian we had just moved into from big-city Minneapolis; a new board-with-legs for our small-town fresh-start. The nondescript table fit perfectly in our new, multi-windowed, breakfast alcove; perfectly seating the four members of our family.  While we read the instructions, inserting the right bolt into the right hole, our boys, then seven and three, were tucked soundly into sleeping bags in the bare living room, as our furniture still in transit. We labored to assemble the table, determined to have a place at which to properly commemorate our first meal together in our new home and community.

The last screw was secured in the final chair leg just after two a.m.

Today, a decade-and-a-half later, when the southern sunlight of our now-home in New Orleans smothers it, you will see the signs of the life the table has nobly earned in service to our family. Worn spots mark each place setting. Plates and bowls of china, paper, and plastic have been repeatedly set down, slid around, eaten upon, picked up again – sometimes dropped. A knot on one end of the table has dried out, a small crack has now settled into a browned notch out of the edge. If you put your face close to the table’s edge and look at its surface, you can trace the hard-scrabble pencil indentations of the two boys who completed their homework each night 100_49891while mom or dad prepared dinner.

Look more closely and you can find a worn two-digit, kindergarten math problem overlaid with something more algebraic, far more recent.  The ancient nine-plus-three-equals-eight-no-twelve is still bold from the pressing of a hot dog-diameter pencil; the more recent equation made by a more elegant and confident ink pen.

The table has made its way south with us.

A million small lines zigzag the surface;  swooping in graceful curves atop the now-worn maple, resembling a vacant skating rink in January. Every member of our family has triple-axeled this table countless times to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of each of the others. It is a spot of triumph, of place of individual and group confession, reflection, renewal. It has hosted countless meals, endless discussions, prompted numerous revelations; it has echoed the laughter of day-to-day  100_4986life, heard the solemnity of nightly prayers of thanksgiving and praise, sorrow and intercession. It has been spilled on, bumped into, lived on, all the while quietly, steadily. Always smoothly supportive.

It has served us well.

Some ten years ago, we uprooted our brood again – this time to New Orleans. The table that once bore mostly pedestrian, traditional Midwestern fare has become attuned to hosting more exotic and at times experimental and quirky meals of gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish.  I am certain the resulting changes in dietary spills and slops has only served to enhance the preservation and aging process of the maple; it is a seasoned patina – the spice of memories – adding character to the worn, blonde, wood

The table is loyal; it has been almost exclusively devoted to our immediate family; guests have usually necessitated a shift to the more expansive, less lived-on, dining room table.  It, too, has stories to tell, but nothing approaching the quantity of those with that our kitchen table could regale us. And now, our time here is coming to a close; both boys have graduated high school, one has completed college as well,  while the younger begins his collegiate experience. We are headed off on new adventures, different adventures.

Our inexpensive-when-purchased, still not priceless, D.I.Y. table will accompany us.100_4979_00

Boys who once needed help to scootch up their chairs now find little elbow room to spare when we are all together. The table’s chairs creak a bit beneath their more considerable heft. Still, neither of them has asked if we will ever get a new kitchen table, or why we just  can’t eat in the dining room. The table has adapted nicely over the last few years from a haven of group work, to more solo time with family members; a boy with a bowl of cereal and spread out newspapers or school project is now more common than then the full-fledged mealtime family foursomes of the past.

The table also spends more time sheltering two aging dogs seeking the relaxing companionship of their boy’s stocking feet –  adept as each has become at absent-minded, foot petting.  Both dogs are equally content to lay there, just soaking in affection, less time frenetically awaiting dropped crumbs from younger, less observant boys,  who used to provide ample treat-pouncing opportunities.

Mealtimes are cozier than they used to be, though this is just a phase of sorts. Our sons have more hectic schedules, and sporadic all-of-us-home home evenings often find us in the living room, munching pizza and binge-watching Netflix – another family ritual once confined to Friday nights, now preciously savored whenever we can scrounge one up. One son still lives at home; mealtimes for three of us frees up some of that vaunted, and coveted, elbow room, though probably to some occasional chagrin on our part.

Soon, the table’s adaptability will again be tested,  as the term ‘table for two’ will be de rigueur.

Someday the table may serve in an entirely different capacity – maybe a first-apartment-hand-me-down for one of the boys, or maybe someday many years down the road and to the 100_4977puzzlement of a spouse, a much-wanted keepsake for one of them.

Not that they are likely to ask about its eventual fate now, but if they do I can just tell them, to their confusion and my satisfaction, that this little kitchen table is, indeed, our heirloom in training.

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Like Son, Like Father, Like Wow, Man

“You young kids and your crazy ideas.”

That’s a phrase my thirteen-year old son Sam uses dryly when a topic comes up and I refer to something from the past, or throw in some sort of archaic phrase like ‘groovy’ into a dinner table conversation.

One of Sam’s favorite treats is a cold Dr.Pepper; so much so that he has, on a few occasions, been given twelve packs of the stuff as a birthday present. We limit his consumption of pop to just a couple a week, usually our Friday night family ‘Pizza Picnic,’ and/or if we are at some special event or gathering, so it really is a treat for him, and a gift that keeps on giving.

The other night at dinner my wife and I were discussing coffee, and Sam got to musing about how when he was an adult, he didn’t think he would drink coffee, and would probably stick to Dr. Pepper and root beer as his beverages of choice, adding, that maybe sometime, somewhere along the line, he would want a hot beverage of some sort, but didn’t think it would be coffee.

“Well” I said, “You could always heat up some Dr. Pepper. It’s pretty good that way.”

“Dad, who would ‘heat up’ Dr. Pepper…or any kind of soda?” as he shook his head dismissively.

“We did with Dr.Pepper. Put it in a pan and heat it up, add a lemon slice.”

An incredulous stare and cocked eyebrow were, for a moment, his only response. Then, “Annnnnnnd why would you do that?”

“Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“This was your idea, I suppose?”

“No. They marketed it like that for a while back in the sixties.”

“They did not.” Sam replied dryly, with just a hint of skepticism. He knows this is dangerous ground, as I had, some time ago, proved to him that the Mr. Potato Head toy of my youth was far superior to the plastic, pre-drilled holes version of today, because you needed to use a real potato. (See my post from last August: https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/kids-don%e2%80%99t-try-this-at-home-or-not/ )

“You really made…and drank… hot Dr.Pepper?”

“Yep.”

He furrowed his brow as I continued eating. Before adding a dismissive, “You young kids and your crazy ideas.”

One of the great things about the Internet Age is that things like this don’t have to become ‘because-I-said-it-was’ ‘no-way-I-don’t-believe-you’ things; a few keystrokes on the ol’ laptop, and presto!

Proof. It took all of about forty-five seconds.

As his mom and older brother cleared the dinner table, I went to the computer and summoned Sam. He looked at what I had pulled up, shook his head. “O.K. “You young kids and your crazy ideas.” As he walked away he calmly and defiantly stated, ‘I’M not gonna be trying it.”

I smiled with satisfaction, leaned back in my chair. The Internet: “You young kids and your crazy ideas.”

More memorable (and enticing) than warm Dr. Pepper.

Father’s Day, 2011

Father’s Day. T-shirts that say ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ coffee mugs emblazoned with the similar (‘number 1’, ‘best’ ‘all star’ dad sentiments). Neckties given in abundance, most only worn by a dad because it came from one of his children. A Sunday in June filled with corny greeting cards – or overly sappy, sentimental ones. A dinner out at dad’s favorite cheap restaurant. Deference not usually granted in discussions. Tradition.

A big deal, to us dads.

Like for most, Father’s Day is a day that has changed dramatically in focus and thought process for me throughout the years.

When I was a kid, I eagerly awaited the day, as I always had something unique to give my dad, and that his reaction (or over reaction) would always be amusing or pleasing, and always worth the effort. This is not rose-colored glasses nostalgia; the cache of stuff given by me to my father over many years was discovered as I went through his belongings following his death when I was 27.

This included the set of reddish granite cuff links and tie bar I made for him with the rock tumbler and polisher I got from mom and dad one Christmas.Granite not a precious stone used in jewelry you say? I beg to differ. There was also a tiny bottle of ‘Hai Karate’ after-shave purchased years before at a large department store during a ‘secret shop’ for parents, chosen in secret by me and my elf escort, given with aplomb, used by dad once, never to be smelled again (I later got some Hai Karate for myself; I know why it was a one-shot, one-dab deal).

There was also more ‘mature’ gift or two; from my junior high days, the plastic egg head-on-a-stick figure stuck into a small flower pot with a small sign proclaiming something humorous and related to having a drink. (Hey, it was the 70’s) I also found some of the more yuck-inducing cards I had given him through the years, and could easily see the evolution of our relationship from kid and dad to more adult father and son. I remembered the trepidation as I once gave my father a more, umm…risqué card, and how he laughed heartily, then looked at me strangely, realizing, I am guessing, that our relationship had moved to a new and different level.

My last Father’s Day with my father came just weeks before he died of cancer. He had been Ill for a time I don’t remember much of the details, but I do remember thinking this would be the last card I would be buying him, and that I spent an inordinate amount of time choosing the funniest card I could find. My father was an aficionado of all types of humor, and it was a well-received card, much more than any maudlin sentimentality would have been at that point.

Oddly, that’s all I remember about the card of that Father’s Day.

By the time my dad died, I was a father myself; my daughter was two, and at the stage where her mother chose the card and gift. It wasn’t many years though, before I was on the receiving end of the unique, child-chosen homage trinkets and I began to amass my own collection of Father’s Day totems. It also became clear very quickly that she, too, spends more time than most in choosing a greeting card.

A few years later I was divorced, and my mother had remarried. My Father’s Day now included the ‘step father’ section at the Hallmark store (yeah, I am one of  those people – I take greeting cards seriously; my daughter comes by it honestly) and the Father’s Day cards and gifts I received were delivered during weekend visits.

Times change, Father’s Day changes.

Eventually I fell in love, remarried, and had two boys, who are now 12 and 15. Over the past nineteen years of marriage I have gone from being the non-custodial dad blending a new family to new dad again with mom-chosen gift and cards to present day, where the boys pester me about what I might like for a gift, then miss the obvious-to-me hints I drop on Facebook or stick with magnets to the refrigerator door.

Nearly two-decades ago, Father’s Day was an odd hodge-podge of emotions, with a young, transient daughter who inherited my knack for quirky, endearing gifts and off-beat, humorous cards that she has retained and refined. She will hopefully find a lot of these herself in a box someday and wonder aloud “He saved that?”

Now, the cycle will begin anew; my daughter is expecting a child of her own in November. Next June will come another, new and improved (if that’s possible) version of Father’s Day.

Ahh, as they say here in New Orleans,”It’s all good.”

Fortunately, I am still picking out those step-father cards , though I long ago just skipped the specialty section and just get something that says ‘Happy Father’s Day’ with humor. Or an e-card. (Check your email on Sunday, Gary!)

Ecards. Times do change.

In my half-century plus, I have learned that Father’s Day isn’t just about dad.

My father’s parents both died before I was born, my mother’s mother when I was four. My mom’s father (always ‘Gramps’ to me – I don’t ever remember calling him ‘grandpa’ or anything else but Gramps) was an engaging and integral part of my life until he died, just a few years before my father did. I remember fondly family vacations the four of us took; the Black Hills, Colorado, Wisconsin Dells. The year I lived with him while going to Brown Institute. Great times.

Gramps, too, held to an eclectic collection of treasures I had given him throughout the years; rock jewelry in the same vein that I had given my dad, along with a collection of handmade ashtrays and coasters from my encase-things-in-clear-acrylic phase in my early teens (less noisy but more smelly than the rock tumbler, my parents frequently used Christmas gifts to encourage my creative side) and candles from my more regrettable candle-making years, plus a couple of lopsided beer-bottle beer glasses from the year after I got a bottle-cutter kit. (keep in mind, it was the 70’s)

Some of these goodies were stashed away, but many were on prominent display in Gramps’ small apartment – including the eight-inch alligator with coins and stamps from his native Norway enclosed and visible all along the gator’s back and tail. No, there are no alligators in Norway. Yes, it is a rather ugly looking thing. But I made it, for my grandpa, and he kept it out and on prominent display for a lot of years.

There was also Ivar, at whose lake home in northern Minnesota I spent a dozen joyous childhood summers with he and his wife. Many of my friends from that era were surprised to learn years later that I wasn’t their grandchild, just a family friend. He too, left a collection of stuff from and made by me. he too, apparently, had a penchant for ugly candles he never burned. And beer glasses couldn’t drink from.

My dad, Gramps, Ivar – all are long gone from the scene, all missed on Father’s Day….at least, missed in a physical, wish-I-could-see-you-again sense.

As dads and stepdads, granddads real and ‘adopted’ go, I hit the mother (father) lode.

I was truly blessed in that regard, and their presence in my life one of the greatest of all Father’s Day gifts I have or will ever receive. They aren’t trinkets stuffed in a dresser drawer, aren’t sitting dusty on a shelf in a living room. I do have some of their physical artifacts, but the good stuff is all where it can’t be seen, but is always in use.

Best of all, I can use what they left me and partake in one of the grandest of American holiday traditions: re-gifting.

Happy Father’s Day.

Role model (requiem for dad)

He lived his life with
sly, infectious,
mock hubris
an egoless spiritual
panache

that inspired envy more
than disdain,
admiration that trumped
any ridicule

Women and men equally
found him engaging; he
counted many much older
numerous considerably
younger than he
as close friends

Most admirably,

knowing himself
quite uniquely flawed
he never aspired to anything
other than accomplished
imperfection.

– Mark L. Lucker
© 2018
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