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A Table & Four Chairs

I’m cooling out for a minute. Just made the bed and got the dishes out of the dishwasher. I’m going to take out the trash and then box up a couple of things I sold on eBay. Mostly I’m squaring things away so that I can work on recording for the rest of the day.
As ever, I have a thousand different things on my mind. Mostly Grandview, the song I’m going to be recording. But I’ve also been thinking about my family and how I’d like to write some sort of story about them. I’ve been thinking about my life and how I’d like to tell the story of the last eight years of truck driving. This and that.
I guess the thing that got me to thinking about the family is that fact that we brought in my old cafe table off of the back porch. The table was from my family’s restaurant. When my aunt Loretta was selling the cafe, she asked me if there was anything in the place that I wanted as a memento. I told her I’d like to have one of the tables and a set of chairs. Much to my surprise, she gave them to me. I’ve dragged them around ever since. When I moved down here to St. Pete, we didn’t really have room for it. So it wound up on the back porch (which is a big, screened in porch, like you see a lot in Florida). It was reasonably protected from the elements out there, but the pollen was all over it (no way to stop that).
Well, Victoria’s daughter, Michelle, just moved into a new apartment with her boyfriend and they needed a table, so Victoria gave them the table I was using in the living room (for the laptop computer), and we moved the cafe table into the living room in its place.
At first I didn’t think much about it. It’s just a table. But I’ve found myself thinking about the cafe a lot since we brought it in. I guess that goes to show you that some ties cannot be broken. That table is a direct connection to my past, and to the family history that was tied up in that restaurant. I was sitting there last night looking at the table and thinking about all the meals that had been served on it. All the stories, gossip and laughter that had happened around it. More than likely at some point my aunt Sherry sat some food down upon it when bringing out someone’s order. Or people ate my mother’s cooking on it. Or my aunt Loretta cleaned off the empty plates when they were finished.
I keep thinking about all the characters who came through the restaurant. Senator Ollie Harris probably ate at this table at some point. Or Jimmy Johnson, the Elvis impersonator. Or Don Kistler, the angry Jew who delighted in telling everyone that unless they’d read The Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek, they were reading a pack of lies. Or any number of the good, decent people who wandered through our lives at the restaurant every day. Plumbers. Electricians. Secretaries. Bank presidents. Mill workers. Construction crews. I remember so many faces. So many names. I wish I could go back and thank each and every one of them for being a part of so many fond memories.
Sometimes it gets me down to think about all that being gone. Not just the cafe. It was a business, after all, and that happens. People move on. What I miss more than anything is having that restaurant as the centerpiece of my family, with aunts and uncles and cousins coming in and out all the time. Now the aunts and uncles are dwindling in numbers, as old age steals them away one by one. Without the cafe as a common ground, few of the cousins have stayed in touch. For decades that cafe was our one common connection. Without it we’ve all drifted away on our individual currents. Few of us have looked back.
It’s funny. When we moved that table into the living, I didn’t think much of it. It’s just a table, after all. But sometimes when I’m sitting there, I swear I can hear the distant tinkle of glass and silverware. I can hear my aunt Sherry laughing as she jokes around with customers. I can hear my aunt Sis grumble, sitting at the counter and freely giving out her pearls of political wisdom. I can hear my aunt Loretta matching wits with some difficult customer. Or I can see my aunt Sue peeking around the corner from the back room, shaking her head, and going back to cutting potatoes. But most of all, if I’m real still, I can almost see my mother in the kitchen, bent over the big metal table in the center of the room, patting out those homemade biscuits.
I guess, in the end, it’s not “just a table” at all. I’m very glad to have it in off of the porch. But more than anything, I enjoy just being able to touch it and rest my elbows on it, like in the old days. I might be in Florida now. I might have a completely different life. I might be using that table for a computer desk. But just sitting at that table somehow sets the world aright. And as I sit there, I can almost hear the distant tinkle of glasses and the fading laughter of my family. If nothing else, in my heart that table now keeps alive some wonderful part of my past. I’m ever the more thankful that when Loretta asked me what I wanted to remember the cafe by, she didn’t balk at an odd request, and didn’t hesitate to give me a table and four chairs.

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