Blowin’ In: At Table
By Susan Mangan
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what,
we must eat to live. The gifts of earth are
brought and prepared, set on the table . . .
We chase chickens or dogs
from under it. Babies teethe at the corner . . .
It is here that children are given instructions on what
It means to be human . . . At this table we sing with joy
We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
(“Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo)
So much of my life has been spent in the kitchen. As a young child I would join my grandmother Rose at her kitchen table at dawn on Thanksgiving Day. The fragrance of cloves and nutmeg, roasted carrots and stewed meat permeated the air.
Grandma set the toaster on her kitchen table, and we would toast the bread for stuffing. I can still feel my elbows stick to the green vinyl tablecloth as I attempted to cut perfectly precise squares; even now, I can hear my grandmother’s voice teaching, laughing, and singing “Silent Night” a month too early for Christmas.
Our Chicago home was small. The table rested almost in the middle of the kitchen. Here my mother and aunt would roll out hundreds of hand-crafted raviolis for holiday meals and drink a few too many glasses of red wine. On Friday evenings I would pull up an extra chair to the table and watch my parents and their friends play card games, laughing over sweet bourbon cocktails.
As brisk November winds turned into December snow, my best friend and I would decorate Christmas cookies. Sprinkling sugary confections atop delicate spritz cookies and rolling rum balls in toasted pecans, we would pretend to be famous chefs talking in our best imitation of Julia Child. Later, we would stuff ourselves with my mother’s delicious soups and homemade bread; content in the moment, we would laugh and dream, unaware of what our futures would hold.
Many of my loved ones who once sat at that table are now ghosts, including my childhood friend. Our house was sold, and new families have since moved into and out of the rooms where I once lived. Like the creak of the stairs and the heat from the old gas oven, my mother’s laughter is a now a memory, but her beautiful recipes for soup, pasta, sauce, and cookies remain. Each holiday, I try to honor her memory through my cooking and the traditions she shared with family.
My Irish family enjoys turkey and stuffing for their Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. I grew up eating homemade pasta for Christmas, so rather than attempt to marry the traditional Christmas turkey and stuffing with lasagna, I began a new tradition. The Sunday after the New Year, my family sits at the dining room table, still filled with Christmas greenery, and shares an Italian meal. This is our celebration of the “Little Christmas.”
As the children have grown and now leave for college at sporadic times, I never know how many of us will sit at the table for the tradition that I hold close to my heart. Still, I will continue to make the sauce and roll out the dough for homemade pasta and pie, preparing for our dinner on the worn top of my kitchen table.
A keeper of memory, our kitchen table has witnessed milestone birthdays with champagne and cakes and has held comforting candles during storms and soft snowfall. Its surface is tacky from the starch that dripped as my mother-in-law peeled pound after pound of potatoes for many a Christmas dinner. I am not sure that I have the heart or mind to refinish this table in keeping with the new styles.
Etched within faded grain are the fingerprints of my mother and father-in-law. Gentle ghosts sit at our open seats reminding my family of good times and serious talks, future plans and disappointments. Joy and sorrow both have a place at our table.
As I sit staring out the windows that face the length of the table, I am reminded of a time when a hawk hopped rabbit-like behind the safety of our shed. A blur, soft tufts of grey bloomed from sturdy legs, almost human in their grace.
The hawk stood at his earthen table, parallel to mine – a banquet covered in clover and spent wild strawberries, dandelion greens and rotting mushrooms. Above the bird’s regal head, blue jays skittered amid the branches of our old plum tree. Squirrels accompanied the hawk at table, digging acorns, while chipmunks scurried about in child’s play.
The hawk, a wise elder, was content in my yard among the other birds and beasts. Stamping his talons on the wet grass, the hawk feasted, pulling sinews from the earth and swallowing his prey in reverence.
Once he was sated, the hawk flew with full belly into the slanted light of the late November morning. Knowing their place, his companions departed the table as well. Only then did I allow my spaniel to run free atop their table, collecting her share of mice left behind.
A dream dissipating to memory, I turned away from the window, back to my own place at table to write and sip slowly from a cup of peppermint tea.
*Source Consulted: Young, Kevin (ed.) The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at su*******@ya***.com.