Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One thing I think about on Thanksgiving

Sue pressed on a bottle cap protruding from a hole in her throat. 
It was her turn to tell why she joined my “writing for beginners” group at the San Leandro library. 
It took several presses of the cap to explain that since her tracheotomy, speaking was very difficult. 
Being a person who loved to communicate,
I decided I better learn to write. 

But Sue panicked when she heard the library 
would publish our Thanksgiving Day stories. 
I don't know where to begin, she wheezed.
I don’t want to embarrass my children.

Sue settled on the topic of her mother’s old oak table. 
She wrote about how in the weeks before Thanksgiving, 
her mother pulled off the plastic table cloth and polished the table 
from the top to its claw feet. 
A week before the meal, she set the table for eight, sometimes squeezing 
ten around it. 

For decades, her family assembled at this table for a traditional turkey dinner, 
every year losing and gaining family members as they passed or moved away and spouses and grandchildren took their places. 

When Sue’s mother died, Sue brought the table to her own home
and continued the ritual of polishing and setting in exactly the same way.  
The work summoned memories that made her sink into the nearest chair. 
Every plate Sue set, every candle she unwrapped, brought to mind 
scenes from her childhood, from her children's childhood, 
and now from her grandchildren’s childhood. 
She felt the gentle presence of spirits hovering around the table, 
especially her mother's, always there at my elbow, checking my work

When Sue died four years later, her daughter invited me 
to a memorial service at the Oakland Hilton. 
In the hallway, I spotted clawed feet 
beneath a white tablecloth with framed family photos. 
In the center stood a double-paned silver frame 
holding Sue’s story, The Table.