Clearing Away (September 2008)
I looked at my grandmother’s small kitchen table and found myself saddened by the mountainous mess. Boxes of soup broth that never made it to the basement pantry support crumpled paper bags and window curtain hardware. There were small jars of organic grapefruit juice, a pint of ammonia for the laundry, coffee stained packets of artificial sweetener, nasty dish towels, and cruddy kitchen appliances. A ceramic bowl held freckled bananas and shriveled apples smelling of ethylene. I realized, by the disarray, that once again the grip of depression had taken hold.
Somewhere beneath the suffocating mess is a cherry-wood table. Memories of precious mornings and coffee with my grandmother—she wearing her red wool tartan plaid robe, darned at the elbows and facial tissues peeking out from the pockets—waited to breathe again.
The table originally lived in her knotty-pine paneled galley kitchen, and was a mere three feet from the stove. We could check the buttermilk biscuits while seated, and enjoyed the warmth from the oven in winter. Dinners were spent in ease over small steaming plates. The old table creaked and groaned as we rested elbows upon it while leaning forward in conversation. The chairs had echoed back in their own voice of age.
Slowly I cleared away the mess. The emotional effort made the task seem like more than it was. Unable to imagine finding an end to the mound of neglect I was nearly halted by discouragement. Taking a deep breath, I focused on taking care of whatever single item I picked-up…baby steps when I was incapable of a full stride.
A wave of depression induced grief washed over me. I became overwhelmed at the absence of shared meals, and leaned against the sink as tears welled up; I remembered being loved.
Not wanting to clear the table and yet hoping to regain a sense of order once completed, I forced myself to continue. Months of kitchen grime does not wash up easily from the now uncovered wood. My fingernail scratched away some unknown glob and the sound drew the cat’s attention. Now and then a tear would fall and mix with the bleach solution. As I cleaned away the neglect the rich red-brown of the wood was exposed.
The table is so old that the wood’s grain can be felt through the dishcloth. Almost lovingly I continued to wipe the ridged surface of my grandmother’s table. My melancholy lightened as I traced with my fingers the worn grain and recalled the graces from my grandmother’s well worn life.
It took a while, but the task was completed. The cleaned area appeared warm and inviting. The Tuscany-gold wall holds a mounted lamp—as her kitchen had—that casts a warm glow on the freshly polished table. The hand-made ceramic bowl, a gift from the artist, had been washed and refilled with shining Pink Lady apples.
With my coffee cup in hand I sat down with a book, and drew a quick shortened breath—a familiar sound brought an unexpected joy. My grandmother’s table welcomed me back with a distinct and loving creak.