“Well… as delightful as this has been…” Garis put his hands on the table and pushed himself up, “I have homework to do…” The table gave more than it should and answered back with a groan.
The corners of Lynn’s mouth pulled upward, reluctantly; her eyes cast down at Garis’s hands, “I remember when you were so little… your chubby little hands on this table… and now you give it all it can handle…”
“Oh no, mom’s crying again…” Grace was laughing at her mom without making fun of her. As much as Grace didn’t want to admit it, she was a lot like Lynn, especially in the crying department.
Claudette rolled her 12-year old eyes, “I’m leaving before mom gets outta control…”
“She’s leaving before the work starts is more like it,” Grace countered.
“I’m too little to have to clean up the table, Grace.”
Lynn hated to encourage ‘Dette but lord did it crack her up when that little spitfire abused the “I’m too little” thing. While she was still humored, Lynn offered, “Relax people; your dad and I will clean up the table. Now get outta here before I change my mind.” All 3 kids and Norm made a break for it. “Hey not so fast jackass… I said you’re helping.”
Norm snapped his fingers, “Damn… so close.”
They cleared the table in companionable silence; sharing glances, laying a familiar hand on a back or an arm, coyly bumping into each other. It always surprised Lynn how much she simply enjoyed being with Norm and how much she needed his touch; 25 years together had only served to show her she wanted at least 25 more.
With the table cleared, they set about cleaning the kitchen while telling each other stories from their day. The task went quickly and Lynn waved Norm off as she went to wipe off the dining room table.
“Seriously? You’re going to wipe off the table? You are your neat-freak mother’s daughter ain’tcha?”
With a shrug and a half grin Lynn went about the superfluous task. As she ran her dishcloth over the surface she smiled at the pink highlighter decorating Grace’s spot; everybody assumed it was the result of a coloring accident, Lynn always got a good laugh when she explained how 3rd-grade Grace got a little zealous while highlighting the classroom rules that were given out on the first day. Her college-bound senior had always been a willing and devoted servant to The Rules.
“Honey, momma just spoke to Mrs. Bulger. She said you are doing really well in kindergarten but she’s worried you might be bossing your classmates a little…”
That perfect face, with the green eyes wide, was masked with indignation, “Momma… there are rules and if those kids aren’t going to follow them I NEED to remind them…”
“Heeeyyyyy whoa… how ‘bout you let Mrs. Bulger keep everybody abreast of the rules, ok?
Lynn sat down as she remembered it was during that same exchange that Grace worriedly asked if she was allowed to continue living with them after kindergarten, “of course doll, but next year, after 1st grade, we’ll have to revisit this conversation.”
How could 12 years have passed so quickly? How could Grace be mere months from college? And why did that college have to be 11 hours away….
A sigh and a shrug brought her back to the task at hand; Lynn stood and wiped ‘Dette’s area. She abandoned the dishcloth and ran her bare fingertips over the deep scratches made by gymnastics metals; Garis had reached across and drug them across the table, “I can’t believe ‘Dette won 5th place overall in her first gymnastics meet! It’s so cool but she should’ve gotten 1st - her routines were way better than all the other girls’.” It always stopped Lynn in her tracks when the kids gave each other kudos; these same kids fought and bickered and one-upped each other until Lynn thought she’d go mad, but they truly believed there was not a person alive, outside their home, that did anything better than the people inside their home.
It suddenly occurred to Lynn that ‘Dette would be moving up closer to Norm when Grace left; it would be a good thing for her baby, a symbolic first step out of Grace’s long-reaching shadow.
Lynn worked her way to Garis’s area; always the messiest, ‘A spill a meal’ Norm liked to say. How could this kid be so athletic and such a goon at the same time? As a 10th grader he was already widely regarded as one of the best athletes to ever grace the fields of the local high school and yet he dropped his fork on the regular. The worn finish was most likely from all the spills but she couldn’t help but think the hundreds of imaginary plays drawn out in this very spot were somehow involved in the breakdown of the finish.
She didn’t remember when or how the seating arrangement had come about. She didn’t recall assigning seats (and though Norm sat at the head of the table - it was in appearance only - Lynn would’ve definitely been the one responsible for orchestrating the chair dance); all she knew was that it suited them. She loved looking into her girls’ eyes when they talked about school and dished about their friends. She loved the shared eye rolls when Norm settled into a life-lesson rant (it also gave her a clear view of the all-too-frequent eye rolls meant for her). She loved the way Garis rested his head on her shoulder and said, “I love you momma;” most often while still laughing at something shockingly funny that had tumbled from Lynn’s mouth but it wasn’t rare for it to happen without prompt. Her favorite part was sitting next to Norm; it was only at the dinner table that they sat this close, without a kid or two jammed between them.
Having cleaned the entire surface, Lynn sat in Norm’s chair and stretched her arms around the end of the table, her hands reaching as far down the sides as comfortably possible. She looked down the expanse of this simple table and knew her decree of eating together, no matter the hour, was right. Of course there was the obvious health and weight control issues associated with eating at 9pm but their family unit was built on the hours spent here, all 5 of them together, laughing, sharing, crying, arguing, bonding; making memories.
Norm walked into the dining room to see her hugging the table, “I thought you got lost…”
“I did… in my memories. Remember the day we bought this table? You were in your element, an entire warehouse of scratch and dent furniture… would you ever have thought we would still be using it 22 years later?”
“It’s been a good table…” he said as he fell easily in step alongside Lynn on her walk down memory lane.
“Remember how you put the sale in the ledger twice and we still overdrew our checking account…”
“Ok, ok… you’ve proven yourself to be the better CFO anyway. You should thank me for that.” Norm wasn’t great at laughing off his shortcomings but this one had a thick skin, formed over years of retelling, protecting it. “It is amazing to think we got this table when it was just the 2 of us and now we’re getting ready to send Gracie off to college;” it was his turn to fight back tears, he dropped his head under the guise of seating himself.
Lynn pushed herself back against Norm’s chair, “How many dinners do you think we’ve eaten here? Not just the holidays but just regular dinners… we’ve celebrated birthdays and grand slams and band solos and straight A’s; ‘Dette getting the part in the play and Grace being 1st chair in state band, Garis coming in 2nd at Math24 - remember… the winner was an 8th grader and he was in 6th…”
“They all had their first meals here…” Norm’s voice caught so he paused and gathered himself, “and we’ve laughed… a lot; but no-one more than you.” Norm smiled at the thought of Lynn crying with laughter, no sound emanating from her; the rest of them laughing at her laughing. He fell in love with her all over again during those fits of laughter.
Lynn chuckled then gave in to the honesty of life, “This table has seen it’s fair share of bad times… arguments, shouting, crying, bickering… we’ve done it all around this table. The dinner before we separated was hard and the night you came back for good was sooo awkward. The night after my mom’s funeral… I’d eaten every meal at my parents’ house for 3 months, it just seemed so surreal, and I worried about my dad... at his table alone. I remember the lunch you made after I lost the baby… you knew I wouldn’t eat but it made you feel like you were helping in some way; I’ve always felt bad about how I shut you out…” this time Lynn’s emotions stopped the flow of memories.
Norm grabbed her hand and blinked hard; he wasn't sure if he was trying to convince her or himself when he said, “The leaf never fit snuggly and the legs have been wobbly since we brought it home…”
“…but it was strong enough to hold 22 years of Us.” Lynn didn’t even try to stop her tears but she did wipe at them, hoping for a clearer view of the imperfections she found so intolerable for so long; she realized now, those imperfections were the story of their life together. She didn’t remember what caused every scratch or how every bit of indelible marker got there or when she first noticed Garis’s nightly push off was straining the table but she knew she would always remember the feeling of sitting around this table. She would always remember how it felt to sit here, the food long cold, sharing their lives and dreams and laughter..
Norm eased into her thoughts, “Babe… Garis and I need to get this loaded on the truck; they’re waiting at the church,” at the sight of her tears he added, “…and just think… the sooner we get this old, rickety monstrosity outta here, the sooner we can move in the new table and put an end to this ridiculously long remodeling project.”
Lynn wiped at her eyes once more and with more strength than she felt, pushed herself to standing, “Yes… of course… after all, I’ve been waiting almost 2 years to get that amazing new table in here... with it's clean, unmarred surface… If it's ok with you, I think I'll just go upstairs while you carry it out…”