**Originally published May 2011**
My father has always worked early mornings. He and my mother would rise together at five thirty and I would listen to the pattern of their morning from my room. Kettle turned on, bathroom, cigarette lit, coffee mugs pulled from the cupboard, milk poured, and tea ready, and then they sat quietly at the kitchen table for the first few sips. Their quiet morning chatter a comforting murmur underneath my blankets, an indication that all was right and I could go back to sleep.
My mother’s kitchen table is where I sat every day after school from grade one through six. She sat beside me as I read aloud from my Conte Jaune, both of us struggling with a language we didn’t know. When I was done, she would repeat the process with my sister and then with any children she watched after school. We were on rotation, one at time we sat down with her while the others played outside. To this day, I must erase pencil marks until the page is clean.
During supper, the television would read out the news. My sister and I would twist and strain to see the image and my mother’s heavy sigh would put us back in our place. My father taught us how to play dinner music for her as she filled our plates with potatoes. Fork in one hand, knife in the other, bang them on the table, and clang the utensils crosswise. It was really more of a wordless chant, endlessly funny to us, endlessly annoying to her. The use of our thumb during dinner would procure another heavy sigh followed by an irritated, “use your knife.” I credit her with my ability to eat a meal in polite company.
It was to her kitchen table I fled when I got my heart broken, and sobbed my eyes dry. Where my father lost his temper because he could not gather what all the fuss was about over a boy he’d never had much time for in the first place. It was the first time I’d lost control of my own temper and yelled at him, frustrated and hurt that he couldn’t understand. I was twenty six years old. In the days that followed we shared cups of black as tar tea and he offered his opinions and advice. I didn’t want to hear it, but as I sat on the plane waiting to go back to Ontario, I knew his advice was good.
At an uneven kitchen table, propped up by a folded taco box, in a one bedroom apartment, I served a simple meal to a man unlike any I had ever met. From this table we have made budgets, laughed and worried, celebrated for the sake of celebrating, and plotted out a future. When I call home it is he my father asks after before inquiring about my state of being. I think of it as his way of saying “I told you so.”
When I first met the family that I would one day vow to be a member of in a pretty little courthouse, I sat at the kitchen table in shy silence. I marveled at the two sisters (whose opinion of me was only second to that of their mother’s) raising the most polite and lovely children, eight of them in total. Yes, four children each who match in age and gender, and are each other’s best friends. I think I might have fallen in love with them before the man whose favour I was seeking. It is here that I sit and listen to stories worn and tattered by telling. I watch a family grow and wonder if I will contribute to its numbers.
My grandmother’s table has perhaps been one of the most influential in my life. This is where she taught me how to play gin rummy and roll a cigarette, neither of which I still know how to do. It is where everyone bee-lines when they take their boots off at the door. If you don’t get a chair, you force the existing occupant to shove one bum cheek over in order to make room for one of yours. At her table we find out about each other’s goings on. We talk with, or more accurately yap at, one another. This is where we lay it all out, religion, politics, sex and most importantly our opinions about what each of us is up to. I have listened to stories here I know inside and out and have asked to hear them again. It is a destination where we all seek to gather.
And it was to this table we all flocked, stunned and heartbroken when my uncle passed last year. My grandmother is a matriarch to our family, an inexplicable centre of gravity. She has faced many of life’s challenges with fists raised, ready to fight with all that makes up her small frame and she wins. On this occasion, she led the charge against what death took from her, but love kept living. It was sitting at her table that I heard her say words to her other four children that made them stand taller; “I love you.”
In its assigned space, the kitchen table taps out its slow heart beat, keeping the rhythm of a household. Breakfast, laundry, flyers, homework, cups of tea, meals; life splayed out and shared on a miniature platform. The knicks, and wobbly legs, are road signs that map out the story of a well known companion.