Most people don’t care to listen to what I think. Most people don’t really notice I’m there after the initial moving-in experience when they fix me up how they like me, and then leave me. Just because I’m the sunniest place in the house, means people seem drawn to me, but only to discuss their problems with each other.
Designed to take the modern stance on a place for everyone to gather for their daily meals, with added shelter from the elements, I think back to what it would have been like for my great-great ancestor. Back then, people cooked outdoors, and my ancestors would have been much more exposed to the elements but also much hardier to withstand heat, cold, storm and wind. I sometimes wish I could lead that kind of exciting life but mine has been a good life. At least there’s a window to see what goes on outside of these four walls.
I am the same size as I was in 1976, surrounded by bell bottoms and Wedges and a loudly-ringing dial phone. I miss that dial phone. We had the craziest conversations - she’d always tell me about the weird things people would say, and we’d laugh together. Sadly they replaced the dial phone in the 1990s with a tiny annoying little modern cellphone they could carry with them everywhere. The little brat phone has too high an opinion of himself, thinks he knows everything.
My cupboards were replaced by my apartment manager and maintenance crew in 1997, and I was ok with that but I do miss sharing my space with those old biddies. The old cupboards could sure share a great story, and you’d never guess but they were regular old gossipers. The new combination of cupboards holds more space, they say, although, how you can fit more space into the same sized room does not really make sense to me. My new companions are generally more soft-spoken, and since they hold more, they take to yawning sleepily.
I watched so much happen in just a year’s time. Take this past year for instance. In just a year’s time I got to know 3 sets of new tenants. If they knew what I’d seen happen before they even moved in, they might they might respect a modern kitchen a little more.
Let’s rewind to right around Christmas of 2019. All the sugary smells were about to make me nauseated, and there were simply more people than this apartment was meant to hold. Just between you and me, I had a conversation with the dining room, and although the dining room is generally a prissy thing with not much inside its empty space, it agreed with me that Christmas is definitely the least favorite holiday. There’s way too many spills and sticky hands that get attached to us.
Three months after that, it was like a different place altogether. Those tenants moved out, because I guess they received an eviction notice, and within a couple weeks a new couple moved in. It was a young couple. Billy and Mel. They were pregnant, and had their baby about a month after they moved in. My goodness, you’d never believe how that kid could scream! It made the cupboards shutter, and I turned another shade of cream just to listen.
One conversation stood out to me. It was a late afternoon in May. Mel had the baby on her hip while fixing pancakes and scrambled eggs, and the baby was gnawing on a rubber ring, frowning. Cellphone yelled (rang actually, but the ringtone actually says “Hey, you, pick up the phone!” - yeah, rude).
Mel pushed a button and put it on speaker. “Hey, Mel, honey I’m gonna be home late and I have something to tell you. Are you sitting down?”
Mel paused in her cooking. “What do you mean?”
“Just sit down. Tell me when,” Billy said on the other end of the phone.
Mell sat, trembling slightly. “Ok, what’s up?”
“Honey, I just got word that the Covid number is up. I’m going to have to spend time solitary for the time being. I know this sounds hard, but it’s for the best. I’m going to have to ask you to pack me several changes of clothes, with whatever you can find that you think I’ll need and put them on the deck outside. I can’t stay at the apartment for a while.”
“Wh-why not?” Mell asked shakily.
“Several others on the medical team have already taken this precaution several weeks ago, but since I just started at this hospital last week, they let me get the swing of things before letting me know about this. It’s for your and Roger’s protection, Mell. I don’t want the two people in the world I love the most to get sick because of something I bring home with me.”
“B-but this is going to go away soon, Billy, it has to. I mean, it’s like the flu right?”
“No honey, it’s much worse. People are dying every day because we don’t have medications or ventilators or other things to help them. I don’t want that happening to you.” Billy’s voice shook for a moment. Then he continued bravely, “Listen, I’m going to stay at my co-worker’s place and his wife agreed to come to our place and help you. Their names are John and Fan. They’re a terrific couple. John’s about 50 and Fan is maybe 53. She knows all about raising kids and would love to take a turn at night with Roger, since he’s teething. I wish I could be there, but I know you’ll have all the support you need with Fran!”
“Ok...I’ll miss you...I wish I’d known before,” Mell said, trying not to cry. “How long will you have to do this?”
“I...I don’t know, honey. It could be just for a week or two...or it could be longer.”
I have to say, that was one of the saddest conversations I’ve ever overheard. I wished right then I could hug Mell. All I could do was just offer her food.
It turned out that Fran was exactly what Mell needed. Fran was a sweet, caring older woman who understood the challenges of being a young first-time mom, and she stepped up every time for Mell, even though they weren’t even related. (I did have to wonder, what about Mell’s family? That part never made sense to me. Why couldn’t your own family members share the quarantine space with you, but a co-worker’s family could?)
One conversation stands out in that time that Fran was here in the apartment with Mell. Billy had been gone for several months, although he called every single night just to say hello to Mell and Roger. Mell had just got off the phone and was feeling teary and Fran came over to put an arm around her shoulder. “It’ll be ok,” she said. “Now how about I share some things with you and you walk down memory lane with me?”
Soon the two women were leaning over the countertops, sipping black tea and laughing at the stories Fran shared as she flipped through family photo books with Mell. It was sweet and kinda funny to watch those two silently. It was like looking at the same person in the mirror, only at different stages of life. I could see what Fran used to be when she was a young woman, wife to a military doctor during the Vietnam War, when he was overseas for months at a time with a very short furlough in between. I could see how it had matured and changed her, and she’d learned to rely, not on other people, but on a strength beyond herself. I could see also that Mell was just at that same place in life, and I hoped she found the same strength Fran had.
It was so noisy and happy when Billy finally got to go home! They had a party, Billy, Mell, Roger, Fran and John. Fran made vanilla cake and Mell made chicken salad (something she’d learned from Fran how to make, because she’d started out burning water). They laughed and talked late into the night, sometimes crying, sometimes just seated in silence. The dining room and I watched quietly. What a year it had been! It was almost Christmas time again.
Christmas came and went and I didn't even realize it had. It was the quietest Christmas ever. Billy and Mell went out to visit her sister's house but other than that, they just hung around the dining table or kitchen cabinets, talking on Cellphone, over video chat to friends and family.
But they had each other. I think they valued each other so much more. It reminded me of something my ancestor had said before he was chopped down for the sake of the human cause. When you are reduced to your bare roots, you learn to appreciate the small things in life and be grateful for the time you had.