“Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us remember a life worth living.”–Rachel Naomi Remen
I saw her on the opposite side of the block, the woman with purple cord-like hair wound round her head like a hat. She walked along the sidewalk at the opposite end of me, and she carried what appeared to be a purple calico print backpack on her back. Talking uninhibitedly to herself in a syncopated, sing-song voice, she did an about face and turned toward a man as he stepped out of his car into the damp, cold morning air.
“Hey, Mr., wanna buy me some breakfast? Breakfast is good. Food is good. I like breakfast food.”
I could not hear his soft reply, but I heard her sadly chime a truncated response.
“Ok, ok. I am not bad. I am not bad. Just wanna sit at the kitchen table with Mamaw. Just wanna sit and eat at the table with Mamaw.”
The woman, from my distance, appeared to be not much older than my own 22 year old daughter, and emotions suddenly choked my throat and clouded my heart. I wanted to wrap my arms around, as if she were a small child, and take her back to her home–wherever that may be. In spite of this woman’s evident mental illness, she seemed to long for the comfort, safety, and shelter that we often find at the family kitchen table.
Kitchen table memories spooled out in my mind plain as thread, and some were just as colorful. Many were fond and warm pictures–snapshots of holidays past. Others were remembrances of various familial situations. I was adrift in a kaleidoscope of images; snippets of moments glided through my mind as leaves the colors of amber, crimson, and tangerine, freed from the bondage of a tree, take flight in autumn breezes. Impressions of full bellies, hot coffee, spirited–or sometimes intense–conversations, and purposeful work endeavors around one piece of furniture continued to tumble about . . .
Homework and games
Puzzles and paints
Posters and patterns to sew
Papers typed late into the night
Stacks of bills to pay
Budgets in need of balance
Dancing eyes sharing stories
Tears that break the heart
Conversations and disputes,
I think I need to leave the room
Set the table please
Platters of food to share
May I please be excused?
Not ’till you clean your plate
Spills that demand to be cleaned
Bubbled burps of Friday night soda
Mix well with pizza and chips
Quarter fines, ‘cause
Burping is rude
Peals of explosive laughter
Oh no, we’re in trouble now
May I please have some more . . .
What about waffles with peanut butter?
My friend is spending the night
Do I have to do her chores?
Pass the butter please
No, you can’t go out with your friends!
May I have another roll please?
Do you realize the seriousness of your actions?
Come in and sit a spell, friend
Did you hear about this?
Why, yes they say it’s true
Now, listen, you can’t believe everything you hear
Birthday cakes and cookies sprinkled
Presents wrapped with curls of shiny ribbon
Curlers set, braids woven
Talks of dreams and
Future plans filled with hope
No, it went like this.
Did she really throw a fork at Uncle?
Well, they were wrestling
Brothers nearly tore down the kitchen
Over the last piece of cake.
It’s your turn to clean the dishes
But I had to do that last week!
Remember to sweep under the table
Whispered late night conversations
Big changes coming soon
If only kitchen tables could talk
At the heart of a home, there is the kitchen table–a field of harvested memories and land for new seed to sow. It is my wish, as we gather, eat, converse, and work around our own kitchen tables, that we take time to not only nourish our bodies, but also savor the moments with one another, and form kitchen table memories and traditions worth sharing and passing on to future generations. May we remember those who have gone before us, and love the ones who remain. May we likewise take time to pray for those without homes, looking for a kitchen table at which they can sit and sip a cup of comfort. May those lost souls find some form of peace and solace, and may they one day be reunited, or united, with people who love and care for them.
My final prayer of hope is for the unknown young lady with wound cords of purple hair. May she be safe and well. May she no longer roam the streets alone, and may she make her way back to her Mamaw’s kitchen table. After all, she was once somebody’s baby girl.