[my sister and brothers decided that when the kids got married we'd give them a dinner table as a gift. i know it doesn't sound like a glamorous gift, but we're not glamorous.]
Well, Noah, you couldn't have been more than 10 or 11, it was around 1992. You and your brother and sisters were staying with grandma and grandpa for an extended period while your mom and dad were out of town. I don't know if it was just for a few days or a week, but it seemed more like a month by the time it was all said and done. Your uncle Al and Lisa and Augie were living there along with me. By the time we got to that last night, you can imagine our patience had been well tested and thoroughly exhausted. We weren't used to having a bunch of toe-headed butterballs staying there for any extended period of time. I'm pretty sure it was august, because there was sweet corn, burgers, and green beans, green onions and tomatoes fresh from the garden.
I think it started with Noel, who at the time was no fan of green beans. She started whining about something or other, Hope was well off in her own world chattering about horses and such, and all poor little Joy wanted was an ear of sweet corn. So while the only other sounds were the rest of us eating, the girls started this fugue of gibberish that rose to a crescendo that was a little dramatic and to this day makes me smile.
"But I don't want green beans! No!"
"Would you please pass the corn... would you please pass the corn... would you please..."
"I think I will take my horse out tonight later."
"No green beans! No!"
"Would you please pass the corn..."
"I love my horse."
And on and on and on until grandpa couldn't take it anymore. None of us could.
The next evening your mom and dad came over for dinner and to take you guys home. During dinner, Al did a spot on recap of the last night's cacophony, playing all the parts simultaneously. Your mom couldn't breath because she was laughing so hard, as were grandma and granpa, and Lisa, and Levi, and me. And you, laughing only the way a 10 year boy can.
That's the table for me, Noah. Family, conversation, a lot of food, and even more laughter. A paradise. That was my church, my sacred place that I'll never ever forget. Your laughing, Al's carrying on, your grandma and grandpa. The most precious memories anyone could possibly imagine. It's a kind of spiritual currency that both breaks my heart and helps me through the more difficult moments of life, especially these short days of winter.
It's not just a table; it's a holy place that you're always welcome at and which you always seem to come back to, like a religious pilgrimage. People never really leave, as long as you never forget them. Oh sure, they've moved on from life, but they continue to live in the margins of the stories we remember and tell, as long as we keep telling the stories. Now you've got your own stories to make and tell and cherish. Just don't forget the ones you loved long gone. Keep them alive, especially at your table.