Indestructible

The table is ugly mid-century modern fake-wood Formica. It is not much to look at. The vinyl upholstered chairs around it make an unholy screeching sound and scratch the linoleum when a felt pad falls off a leg. How is it that we have created vaccines and the internet but can’t seem to develop a pad that will stay stuck to the bottom of a chair leg? What’s that about? The chairs are currently blue. Before that, they were green. Before that? I don’t remember.

What 1950’s furniture lacked in appearance, it more than made up for in durability. This set is proof. It is indestructible. It has been used to roll out pie crust and for cleaning buckets of blueberries. It has cooled hundreds of oatmeal cookies through the years. Back when grandmothers still sewed sundresses for their granddaughters, it was the ideal surface for pinning and cutting out patterns. More than a few sunfish have been scaled on it through the years, too. Guns have been cleaned and oiled. Grocery lists written. Hundreds of games of gin rummy, cribbage, and solitaire have been played. The New Testament has been read cover-to-cover during breakfast more than once. It has been cut on, spilled on, painted on, and eaten on. In a kitchen with about eight square feet of actual counter space, it also doubles as the perfect meal prep surface. Forget about those big, fancy kitchen islands you see on new home tours. We have a kitchen table for that.

People, thankfully, do not chain-smoke around it any more, though a generation ago they did. There are fewer black coffee drinkers around it than there used to be, too. The older faces I remember around the table in my youth are just sweet memories and stories now. The pudgy baby faces of our children have morphed overnight into adult faces with jobs, worries, and other people who matter to them. They come for visits and then go back to their lives in the city. Some are starting to bring along new baby faces. If we are lucky, there will be more. That is what makes a family indestructible, isn’t it? New faces?

Some families build palatial lake homes with cathedral ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows and call them cabins. Their kitchens feature the finest granite counter tops and largest “islands” money can buy. They plop cute pillows embroidered with the word “Gather” on plaid upholstered benches and wait for company. In places like this, I’m never sure whether this is an invitation, a suggestion, or a command.

We have an island, too.  It’s called my grandmother’s kitchen table. It’s where her people gather. It’s where we always have. It’s where we always will.

And let me tell you, that is a thing of beauty.

 

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Our people

My friends are my estate.

-Emily Dickinson

Lately, and for no particular reason, I have been thinking a lot about what makes a community.  I had breakfast with four dear friends on Saturday. As I looked around the table at the faces of women who, with each passing year, remind me more of their beautiful mothers, it struck me that I was the only one at the table who hasn’t yet added “orphan” to the list of titles written on her soul. When it is, they’ll be there.

How do I know? Because these women are my people.

This morning, a younger relative who is an ally to my two adult children of color in all the best ways, told me she is trying hard to be a better one in the lives of the people of color she loves. She does not know how much this means to me, and when I try to tell her, I stumble. I tell her that my kids know she gets it, which is true. I don’t tell her how lonely it so often is to be the educator or bigger person or have to constantly choose which conversations to have with well-meaning friends or family members. That I am, more than anything else, grateful to not feel so alone.

This woman is one of my people, too.

I think of all of the women I’ve known throughout my life who’ve loved me, steadied me, and been my friend through thick and thin. Women who know my secrets and guard them as closely as I guard theirs. Who don’t judge when I am impossible or unreasonable or just, well, me. Women who’ve walked the transracial adoption road with me and understand that mothering this way is both the same and different. Very few of these women share my DNA, but they are still my sisters.  Every one.

Things get complicated when a baby is born “breech” with her legs twisted up around her ears. If we’re lucky, we come into this world head first, looking toward the light. And if we’re lucky, we leave the way we came. Facing forward and clear eyed. Sliding out instead of yanked.

And in between the coming and the going, there are our people.

If we’re very, very, lucky.

 

 

 

 

What we save

May the roof above us never fall in, and may we friends gathered below never fall out. -Irish Toast

The thing about always running late is that sometimes you get as many freshly cut zinnias as you can carry at the Farmer’s Market.  I learned this yesterday when a friendly gentleman farmer handed me more than I could carry when I stopped by his stand. Since he had “rows of the things at home” they would have been tossed out at the end of the day, no doubt. So I saved them. The dozens of sturdy, long-stemmed, red, orange, and purple flowers are in a crystal vase in the center of my dining room table.

The four half-dead African violets I saved a week ago from the garden center in town have a new lease on life, too. They have thanked me profusely by putting out new blossoms. The plants and I watch the red squirrels in the yard trying to figure out how to empty the feeders since I’ve greased the poles with a thick layer of petroleum jelly. They are loud, angry, furry little pole dancers. For now, the chickadees happily peck away at the seeds while the squirrels first leap, and then slide to the ground below. It’s nice to see the birds winning for a change.

In other news, the two large parrots that plastered themselves to a 22nd story window sill in Miami this morning were definitely not winning at much. Even if someone had wanted to save them, I’m guessing that opening a window on the 22nd floor during a hurricane was out of the question. And so, the wet, terrified, birds sat side by side on the ledge, looking in. Today, like all of the other two and four-legged creatures in Florida, they are on their own.

A couple of weeks ago, it was Hurricane Harvey and our friend, Randy and his cat, in Houston. Joel, another classmate, kept us updated on the water levels in his son’s home. This week, it is Kevin who evacuated from Key West and Laurie who left her home near Tampa to escape Irma’s wrath. Chris is worrying about her son and grandchildren in the Panhandle while Julie worries about friends and family in Sarasota. There are others we know too, scattered like coconuts throughout Florida, watching and waiting. We watch and wait, too.

Meanwhile, in the west, according to our other Julie, over a million acres have burned. The ruby-red sunsets we see here in Minnesota as a result of all hell breaking loose there does not make up for the fact that so many farmers and ranchers have lost everything or that our national parks are ablaze. My daughter asked me today where alligators go during a hurricane. I’d like to know where the creatures great and small in Montana and Wyoming go, too.

We connect on social media and offer up encouragement and prayers to the people we care about. We provide refuge in the form of friendship. Meanwhile, the world turns, like the leaves. Soon, there will be no more zinnias until next summer to save. The squirrels will inevitably figure out a way around the greased poles and empty my feeders. Maybe there’s a lesson in all of this rain and wind and fire and destruction. Or maybe the only lesson is that we all end up needing saving eventually.

And when it happens, we’d better hope that we’ve held hands and stuck together.