My 83 year-old mom sits at the kitchen table in the spot where my dad used to sit and plays solitaire next to her plastic caskets full of pills, counted out for each day of the week. In front of her is a battery operated card shuffler her diabetes testing equipment, a pen holder, a tissue box, a tin full of old fashioned hard candy the color of jewels.
The table she sits at itself is oak. It’s round but has three leaves that can expand it to fit our family at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. There are 11 of us now because one of my ex husbands keeps showing up for holidays and nobody tells him to stay away. He’s my second ex, not the most recent.
I ask my mom whatever happened to the old kitchen table, the one with the chrome legs and grey Formica top? The one we ate every meal at until I joined the army. I don’t remember. The nogahyde on the chairs was torn. I guess we gave it away. She does recall that her current table is only the fourth she’s had since 1945 when they built the house.
I sat on the side of the table between my parents. My dad came to the table in a white Fruit of the Loom t-shirt after washing up from his work as a heavy equipment operator. He always smelled like Palmolive or Jergens soap when he came to the table. I could partially see the tattoo of a ship peaking from beneath his short shirt sleeve. Mom put the food on the table and was the last to sit down. We never had a tablecloth. Dad read The Daily Olympian while he ate. In those days, the paper was delivered in the afternoon just before dinner. My mom read it before my dad got home so she was one up on him on the news they might discuss over dinner.
We didn’t say grace every night like a lot of Catholic families. We did say it when my Grandma Finnegan came on Sundays and on holidays when the rest of the extended family came to eat.
Once we were finished with dinner it was time to do the dishes. That job fell to my mom and I. She washed, I dried. We fought while we did dishes - about nothing, about everything. Most nights I stood over the dishes, staring at my reflection in the window above the sink. At 17, I imagined that steamy portal was my way to escape.
I gladly wash the my mom’s dishes now. She sits in the next room watching television. Over thirty years later, I still stare out that same window wanting to be transported away.