Friday, May 27, 2011

Let's All Gather at the Table

-- Written for a creative writing workshop in February 2011.

Grandpa made the white oak dining room table and chairs before I was born. He also made to match a radio stand, a glass front hutch that showcased Irish knick-knacks and some of the ceramic dishes grandma painted, and a buffet that was always topped with piles of stuff and never food.

Leaves could be added to the table to seat sixteen people comfortably and I never saw any of the leaves ever removed. Grandma taught me how to set the table properly – to set out forks, knives and spoons even if all the utensils wouldn’t be needed for the meal and to set out cloth napkins instead of one communal towel. My favorite tablecloth was one grandma embroidered with lazy daisy stitched flowers. As a child, it was more difficult to put a clean tablecloth on the long table than it was to make a bed. On Sundays during the summer the table was always full of relatives and the table was usually laden with garden produce - ceramic bowls of creamed peas and potatoes, corn on the cob, cole slaw, sliced tomatoes, home made rolls, Aunt Marie’s sweet pickles and pickled beets, and a platter of carved up and well done beef roast or burnt hamburgers that looked like lumps of coal. Dad said grandma never could learn how to cook after they took away her wood stove and gave her gas. There was usually cake for dessert and the adults then drank coffee, except for grandma who poured herself tea from her pink and gray mottled tea pot. But if the priest came to dinner she would use her gold trimmed white tea set- the one that now sets on the shelf above my kitchen window. Meals at the table always began with “Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts…” and ended with “May I please be excused”.

One time at the table Aunt Burnette, grandma’s sister, demonstrated her napkin folding skills and folded her napkin into various shapes. The grand finale was a bra that she held up to her chest. All of the adults laughed except for grandma who had a horrified look on her face that I will never forget. I think I had a look of embarrassment since I had just begun wearing a bra. Another time Uncle Leo played a trick on Aunt Burnette and served hot dogs for lunch on a Friday back when it was a sin for Catholics to eat meat on Fridays. He let all of us know the hot dogs were made of fish before she arrived and told us to keep the secret. She watched us all eat our hot dogs while she made every excuse to abstain, never once reminding us it was Friday. When it was time for dessert the secret of the fish hot dogs was revealed and Aunt Burnette and everyone laughed. It was fun and I was honored to be in on the joke. Everyone in the family enjoyed jokes and tricks except for grandma.

The adults often played dominoes at the table but if they played bridge they got out the card tables. Uncle Leo taught me to play Pyramid, Clock and Klondike Solitaire at the table. Occasionally Aunt Marie would make mints for a wedding and cover the table with green and white sugar coated leaf shapes that tasted like toothpaste. At the table Grandma showed me how to lay out turquoise broadcloth and pin to it pieces of a Simplicity jumper pattern, matching arrows to the straight of grain. And after it was all cut out she set up the sewing machine at the end of the table, showed me how to thread it and watched me sew.

One day the table burned in a house fire and it was never replaced.

When I bought my own house I bought a used dining room table with one leaf and four chairs that swiveled and rotated until the kids twirled each other in them one too many times. Then I bought some old rusty restaurant chairs, sanded and painted them with Rustoleum and covered the seats and backs with maroon upholstery fabric that was cheap but didn’t match anything else in the house.

In the early days most of the food served at our table was made of pasta or rice – a variety of different meals made from recipes I copied from library cookbooks. We didn’t eat these things because we were vegetarians or thought they led to a healthy lifestyle. We ate them because that’s all we could afford to feed our family of five. Sometimes I would add turkey I had picked from boiled “39c per lb.” turkey legs. If it was summer we supplemented our meals with sugar snap peas, green beans or tomatoes from our tiny garden. Our favorite summer meal was sweet corn dripping with butter and sliced tomatoes.

The kids rolled, pounded and cut homemade playdo at the table and little pieces would drop, harden and hide in the shag carpet below their chairs if not vacuumed or picked up right away. At the table we played Candyland, Crazy Eights or Uno with the kids and after they went to bed my husband and I would sometimes play Canasta or Cribbage. When the kids were older they played one game of Monopoly that lasted several days and left the board set up at the end of the table. Other times there would be a partially assembled jigsaw puzzle at the end of the table and everyone, including visitors, could not walk by and resist the urge to try to add at least one piece to the puzzle. When there were big get-togethers of relatives the games that lasted into the wee hours of the morning were poker or euchre or Trivial Pursuit and the following morning the table would be filled with empty beer bottles and full ashtrays.

I worked on reading exercises with a dyslexic son at the table, grew impatient with a daughter who couldn’t understand math homework at the table and watched a son with a lot of energy run around and around the table like a dog chasing his tail. I did my homework at the table while the kids tapped my shoulder endlessly for a snack, a drink or because “Johnny is bothering me”. Over the years at the table we have blown out birthday candles, colored Easter eggs and laid out chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven on newspapers to cool. One time my son spilled a pitcher of lemonade on a table full of Christmas cookies but we ate some of them anyway after they dried. Sometimes we covered the table with blankets and made a tent below where we fell asleep while we all listened to scary old radio shows on the cassette recorder.

After the kids left home I started collecting ‘50s tablecloths and cabbage rose pattern depression glass dishes and would buy all the nice cloth napkins I found at the thrift store. After the granddaughters were born and old enough to reach the table they would help me set a fancy and proper table even if there was no special occasion. Once when a friend and her mother and granddaughter came to visit and the table was all set for brunch, one of my four-year-old granddaughters greeted the visitors with “be careful at grandma’s table so you don’t break the dishes”. And so, no dishes were broken.

Next week my granddaughters will help me make and ice a cake. Later in the day my grandson will be seated at the table on a booster chair and be presented with a cake with two candles as we all sing “Happy Birthday”. Then we may play some games that include all the kids or we may just talk at the table while the kids run around.

I’ve been thinking I’d like to get a new dining room set since I have ordered a new couch and love seat for the living room. I’ve been thinking I’d like a bigger table, a table and chairs that match, an actual "set". But the old restaurant chairs with the maroon seats have held up remarkably well. And I don't think I'd feel comfortable letting the grandkids fingerpaint, color, use glue and scissors, or play with clay at a new table.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I'd Like to Learn More About Babies, Please

May 8, 2009
Big Sister, Baby Brother
Isabelle and Jacob

Isabelle and Kayla normally judge books by their cover when we go to the library. Kayla looks for books that are pink or have a princess on the cover. Isabelle searches for books that look scary or look like they are about fishing or rocks or mushrooms.

Last time we were at the library Isabelle marched up to the children's librarian and told her she was looking for books on babies because she had a new baby brother. And the librarian found her some books with babies on the cover.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Index to "Ringside at the Big Fight"

I wrote the following for a creative writing workshop assignment.

John, my husband, had oropharangeal cancer a few years ago and I thought he was not going to make it through the battle. It was difficult for me to sit by and watch the fight. He is a survivor.

I don't usually write to submit to any periodicals; however, I did submit this to Chicken Soup for the Soul - "A Book of Miracles" edition. I have no idea why. Maybe because I like it and the fact that my husband is still with me. We shall see what happens.

(It doesn't format quite right here, I'll play with that later)


AC/DC – “play it at my funeral”, you said.
“Acid-reflux”, dr. said. It wasn’t.
A scratchy throat,
A year gone by.


Bandages, gauze and tape.
Base of tongue, biopsy of.
Battle. Hang in there. Struggle. Win the
Big Fight
Bills, piles of.
Blood tests, too many.


Can’t be true.
Can’t eat.
Can’t swallow.
CBC (complete blood count)
, hct
, hgb
, mcv
, mchc
, plt
, rdw. Does the dr. speak English?
Chemo, 5FU, (flurouracil)
, CDDP, (cisplatin)
, drugs, who makes up names for?
Cleanliness, importance of.
Crushed pills.
Constipation, from pain killers.
“Try coffee”, dau. said.


Dehydrated. Rehydrated.
Diagnosis – 141.0.
Doctors: Neil,
Don’t die! Please don’t die.


Energy depleted.
Ensure you get enough Ensure.
You liked generic better.
Only vanilla flavor, please.
Ethyol injections -Save the salivary glands. Maybe.
Esophagus, stretching procedure.
, swallow test.
Every day:
Examinations and


Family worried.
Feeding tube. Food pump.
Funeral planning? Catholic? Or what?


G-tube, aliases - Gastric tube, PEG.
, dressing wounds
, falling out
, flushing
, giving meds
, hole
, protecting
, problems
, second one
Gauze, squares. (See bandages).
Google-IT, All of the “its”.
Grandchildren, angels
, born during battle
, five weeks apart
, miracles
, two of them.


Hospital, in on Halloween.
Huber needles.
Husband, I love you.

In 2003 there were 277,000 new cases of oral cavity
and pharyngeal cancers
and 7200 people died from this disease in the U.S.


Jabbed with needles.
Jackets in warm weather. You, always cold.
Jalapenos, you won’t be able to eat them.
Jargon, doctor’s. Foreign terms spoken with foreign accent.
Jaw, can’t open too far.
Jerking constantly, your body.
Just get through this, please.


Keep from crying, me. Put up a good front.
Keep from dying, you. Put up a good fight.
Kill cancer cells, with chemo.
, with radiation.
Kill pain.
Kindness, of many.
, of nurses.


Lack of sleep, mine.
, yours.
Lettuce. “Don’t eat”, said doc.
Leucopenia: reduced leucocytes, low white blood count.
Lingual tonsil, left. Take it out.
Love. “I love you” “We love you”.
Lymph nodes. “IT has spread there too”.


Malignant neoplasm tongue base.
Mask, bolted to a table
, primitive looking
, scary, stiff, netted, white
, worn during radiation.
Medications, many.
Minister : “Let’s have coffee”. I wouldn’t.
: “Let’s pray”. I couldn’t.
Miracle, wanted.
Misery, mine.
, yours.
Morphine, liquid.


Nonsense you babbled.
No solid food. Then no food and then
Nutritional supplement.


Odors, Smells and Stenches.
Ologies: Hematology, epidemiology, oncology, radiology, pathology.
Opsies: Biopsy, Endoscopy.


Pain patch.
PET scans.
Phlegm, gagging on
, choking on
, drowning in
, thick
, side effect of radiation.


Quality care.
Queasy feelings, causes of mine.
, causes of yours.
Queries, mine.
, theirs.
Quit hoping, never.


Radiation, 5 days a week. 6 weeks.
Recliner, where you slept when you could
, it kept you sitting upright
, so you wouldn’t choke.
Risks: cigarettes, cigars, pipe smoking.


Saliva, lack of.
Salivary glands, blasted.
Sick.Ailing. Ill.
Silence & Reflection.
Skin, aloe lotion for
, burnt
, dry
, flaking
, radiated
, red
Squamous cell,
Stage IV.
Statistic: Cancers of oral cavity and pharynx account for 3% of all cancers in U.S.
Suction machine for phlegm.
Supplements, nutritional.


Tatoos, purple, for radiation.
Teeth., destroyed by radiation.
Throat, sore, from radiation.
Tonsillectomy, lingual tonsils. Operation leads to diagnosis.


Until death do us part.
Uselessness, my feelings of.
, your feelings of. And how they differ.
Utter despair.


Visiting nurses.
Vomit, mine at seeing
, yours.


Waist pack, portable pump, for chemo.
Waiting, I hate to.
Weight loss. (The Cancer Diet).
Winner. You.


X-ray, showed nothing.
Xanax. (Alprazolam). Anxiety.
Xerostomia: dry mouth experienced when body doesn’t produce enough saliva.
XXs tattooed in purple ink by dr. on your neck.


You pulled through.
You won.


Zapped, with radiation.
Zero cancer cells.
Zest for life.