The kids were finally in bed after stories and prayers and I was in the kitchen doing my usual routine of loading the dishwasher and wiping down counters. Suddenly, I began to feel that familiar rise of dissatisfaction overcome me as I attempted to scrub a sticky spot of dried jam from off the edge of my kitchen table.
Though only 10 years old, it showed the wear and tear of 5 active children.
It was decent when we originally purchased it. Inexpensive but sturdy and would more than meet our needs. It came with a removable leaf, essential for when extended family came for dinner. Usually they would laugh at the contrast between the barely used leaf and the very used table. Someone even once compared it to the marriage between Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall.
The core of my dissatisfaction was the desire to walk into my kitchen and feel as though I’d entered a furniture showroom. I yearned for one of those shiny, immaculate tables, complete with elegant place settings on matching linen place mats. And there in the center, a professionally arranged masterpiece of dried flowers that aroused “oohs” and “aahs” when visitors arrived unannounced.
Instead, I had a table surface that showed the ravages of time. The original honey-colored finish was now dull. One end had the name “BEN” exquisitely carved into it. Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy, except that it enabled easy identification of the culprit.
In the center of the table was a burn mark where my husband had once set a hot skillet. “Trivet?” He asked, “…What’s a trivet?”
I saw nicks and scratches too numerous to count and each one told a story involving my active kids or 9 year old cub scouts in a creative moment. Small mementos of best friends over for dinner and dye-colored watermarks from dipping Easter eggs. Paint stains from a science fair project, that reminded me how irritable I can become the night before a school assignment is due.
I’ve kicked around ideas to sand and refinish it some day or maybe even tile the top surface to give it new life, but usually I just go lie down until the feeling passes.
I decided to shift my frustration into appreciation for a strong, useful piece of furniture that had enabled us to create some wonderful memories. That table had really witnessed our life, even recorded it.
There were vague shapes of cookie cutters and countless hours of play dough sessions. Homework scribbles that had accidentally absorbed through the paper. The budget planning sessions with my husband. The family table-top tennis championships. My husband assisting his terminally-ill father in writing his will.
I recited under my breath Suze Orman’s sound advice on life’s priorities: 1) People, 2) Money 3) Then things.
I imagined transporting myself 20 years ahead to a beautiful haven, free of the aroma of “boy-farts” and sweaty pre-teens. I’d even settle for a more spacious dwelling where at least the kid-to-fresh-air ratio is equally in balance. And there in my gorgeous, spotless kitchen, would sit my showroom table. Impeccable and tastefully decorated.
But with that image, came an epiphany. There was a marked absence of teenager’s laughter, as they devoured nachos and played Uno. No kindergartener’s tiny hands, awkwardly learning to write her name. Or the familiar “crunching” sounds all in unison, as spoons clanged against the sides of cereal bowls. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich assembly lines were gone. And most of all, missing were fourteen hands, each grasping another’s as someone blessed the food.
With these images came a poignant reality, that it could arrive all too soon.
Someday, I may be lucky enough to get exactly what I wish for. Things. Superficial, hollow THINGS.
My mood was soon peaceful and ungrudging. The jam gone, and the table clean and ready for it’s next adventure.
Besides, that’s why the good Lord created the table cloth.