This post was originally published on my family blog on Monday, October 17, 2016. I loved it, though, and wanted to share it over here on this space, to share some of my writing, as well as a little part of me and things that are important to me. I hope you enjoy it!
I’ve had the dream and itch to write and tell stories for about as long as I can remember. This little blog is just one small expression of that dream. I recently got a little audacious and actually submitted some writing to an online magazine. My first article was not accepted, and I’m still waiting to hear about the second. But I was recently encouraged to dream Big, Hairy, Audacious Dreams, and so even though this little piece wasn’t deemed mag-worthy, I’m going to post it here. Usually I’m writing menu posts around here, but this fall-ish weather always has me thinking about family, and so this is what came out…
A little piece titled, “Around the Kitchen Table” by Rebecca Meek
Around the kitchen table, she is always full of stories.
“Mom, remember last year when Chlo texted me that random thing about my salad drowning in sauce?”
(No, I don’t remember. And when did she stop calling me Momma?)
“Mom, a girl in my French class told me that I need to shape my eyebrows.”
(Whatever. Your eyebrows are amaze-balls.)
“Mom, today I got to pretend to be a farmer’s wife in history class…”
(Laughter. Lots of it. But only on my insides.)
It’s not like I can blame her. She has been told stories since she can remember. She heard stories of how her dad and I met (in our high school biology lab), and how the cigarette burn got on the edge of the kitchen table when it still lived in my grandma’s kitchen (Uncle Russell couldn’t reach the ashtray), and how you can’t lift the lid of the frying pan too early when you are making Rahm Nudeln (a family recipe) or they will burn. She knows that life lessons and one-liners are found in the pages and frames of Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings and the Princess Bride.
I grew up on stories also. I learned to describe my world at my grandfather’s typewriter, always in his “spot” at my grandma’s kitchen table, unless it was time for dinner, of course. I was impressed by his use of words and how he could sit in front of his typewriter and create pictures out of words, pictures of a world he could no longer see. I learned at his knee to describe my life in ways that would enable him to “see” what I was describing. When I came home from school and sat at the dining room table to discuss my day, it was not good enough to say my day was “ok,” or even “fine.” Details were important. I still recall his stories of life and imagination, so vivid and descriptive, perhaps because he was telling from his memory, and was not bound by what he could see.
Even as a child, I knew the value of giving something more than the value of a single word. I slacked off during my teenage years, when everything was “rad” or “cool.” When I was around 8 years old, my grandpa asked me to describe the color blue. “What does blue look like, Bec?” My heart hurt when I discovered that I couldn’t really, truly describe it, and also that he could no longer see it. He lost his sight from diabetes complications about 13 years before I was born.
When my grandfather lost his sight, my grandmother became the breadwinner for the family. I heard stories of the great Mike Mansfield, Montana senator at the time, who was able to bring my oldest uncle home from Naval duty to help the family. My mom would talk about how she was able to get a farm driver’s license at age 13, due to the special circumstances surrounding my grandpa’s loss of eyesight. My grandpa passed away when I was just 13, and I have missed his wisdom and his stories.
If I learned my love of words from the stories I heard from my grandpa, I learned my love of family tradition and good food from my grandma. My grandma was an extremely generous person, in her love, her time, her home, and her experience. I had the wonderful blessing of knowing her well into my adult life, and for my children to be old enough to really know her and her love.
As a young wife and mom, I was not confident in my cooking skills unless I was making mac and cheese from a box or heating up some ravioli from a can. I wanted to cook nutritious and delicious food for my young family, but I was extremely insecure about getting it wrong. As I began to branch out from things I already knew how to cook, my grandma was on the other end of the phone every time. The first time I cooked a pot roast, I called her to find out how to make gravy. When I wanted to learn to make Rahm Nudeln, that family comfort food I had grown up on, I learned in her kitchen. I recognized as each Christmas passed, that eventually some of the things I wanted to know would pass on with her, and so I learned how to make pink applesauce, how to roast a turkey, and how to make the perfect pie crust. Now that I am older, I miss being able to pick up the phone to ask questions, because I sometimes forget how much sugar she used in her apple pies, and no one in the family seems to have the exact recipe for cottage cheese pie.
In my grandmother’s kitchen, I learned not only to cook, but I learned the value of time given to others. Friendships were formed over cups of coffee at the kitchen table. Hours spent after family dinners playing card games or just talking over pie and cookies are some of my best memories. If you wanted to dunk your cookie in coffee, you had to have your own cup, because dunking in Grandma’s coffee was not allowed. So many stories were told around her kitchen table: how they planned to rent out the little house that Grandpa built but no one would move way out to Target Range so they moved the family there instead (and lived there until they both passed away); how Grandpa called Grandma the day he couldn’t see enough anymore to make the drive home from his worksite (“Hon, I can’t see to drive home”); how my aunt and uncle used to live in a mobile home at the other end of the property and they had an old phone line that ran direct between the two houses (which was eventually sold off). Stories that were funny, others that were sad; stories that told of sacrifice for others, and stories of how love made our family stronger. These stories gave me a foundation as a child that love, family, and tradition are important.
Different stories are told around that kitchen table now. The setting and characters have changed, but the themes are the same. These days, stories of glory of cross country teams and races permeate our home, and how working hard for something you believe in brings brother- and sisterhood friendships for life. Sacrifice.
When we talk about our days, and my daughter is required to tell me more than that her day was “fine,” and we all laugh as she rambles as she makes sure to give us ALL the backstory. Even as we laugh, we “see” what she tells. Stories.
We still tell the story of Uncle Russell and his cigarette, and I imagine that someday, she will tell her children and grandchildren, with a laugh and a smile, as she shows them the burn mark on the edge of the table. Tradition.
I teach my children how to make Rahm Nudeln, and they help me make the pink applesauce. Family.
My children have learned the same lessons I learned around this table. And underlying it all, we find that we have love.