We had supper around my grandparents’ kitchen table last night. It’s old and a little unstable if I try to balance it with four kids and a casserole dish. We had to put in the extra leaf I never knew existed during all the years it sat in their tiny kitchen. Now, it fits perfectly in mine.
My sister sent a picture to our group text—his recliner in burgundy leather now huddled in a corner of her Nashville apartment. We all teased her a bit for taking the nice den furniture, but she said she never looks at this chair without thinking of him. When we’d come over, he’d be sitting there with the paper or a book, always wearing a button down tucked into worn jeans, unless they’d been to the doctor. You wear pressed khakis to see the doctor, my grandmother always said.
On a chilly day like this one, he’d have a little fire burning in the hearth, and that television would be turned on to whatever talk show she wanted to hear but he could tune out because his hearing went before anything else. Don’t try telling him that, because he would just say you needed to speak up.
On warm spring nights, though, he’d open up the door to the sun porch, and if it was Saturday, we’d have our hamburgers at the outdoor table. I always tried to show up on Saturdays because they bought their meat at a local butcher in Buford for as long as they lived there. The first time I took my grandmother to Wilkes alone, the man with the white apron and burly arms blinked back tears when she told him she’d only need half as much ground chuck.
We’re dividing up their house now. I put that outdoor table on my back deck, but it’s no easy task to unravel 65 years of two people with one life. My daddy found a cache of love letters written on hotel stationary, and my mom packed me a box with kitchen supplies she thought I needed. And the book I requested.
It’s a big flat coffee table book of pictures. Christmas in America. Came out in the ‘80s and for as many holidays as I can remember, she kept it on the polished coffee table of the formal living room. We weren’t allowed up there unless it was Thanksgiving or Christmas or maybe Easter, but at those times I would sit and page through this book that opened my eyes to a world beyond my own simple upbringing.
This year, I put that book in the center of the worn, round coffee table my mother brought over in the back of her truck after we moved in. The same table my daddy fussed at us for sitting on when we were kids, the same table we about ruined with coffee cups too hot and markers too permanent.
In this new house, my furniture tells the story of us. And them.