Updated: Feb 19, 2020
It sneaks up, really.
In the midst of a day, a moment, a task.
I set out to accomplish a thing and shuffle a stack and there it is.
That lockdown in my air passage.
Like an elephant just squeezed in and sat down and I am left to wonder—
what just happened here?
I quickly found the chair.
Sat right down and listened to the thundering memories ushered in from some faded and stained table mats.
Just like that.
Cooking and food have been such a journey for me over these adulting years. I did not know how to cook at all when we landed on this continent, but in the absence of restaurants and any familiar cooking aids, I determined to learn and learn I did.
The kitchen became a safe space, where the rules were specific and recipes could guide my way. There were no recipes outside my home in Uganda. Outside, I was winging it. But in the kitchen, there were some parameters and I was drawn to the ordering, producing and all the positive results.
Mealtimes became the framework around which our day, routine and family rhythm balanced. And the table was the center of this space.
I started gathering early in our marriage. In the clearance aisles while on furlough, mismatched napkins and placemats and cloths. I bought them in happy colors and in seasonal themes and I paid whatever we must to carry the weight of it all to our home in Western Uganda.
Setting the centerpiece was therapeutic. I gave it time and thought. It mattered to me. Sometimes there were words in chalk or a verse or a theme. The candles had to match.
Toys could be scattered and floors rarely mopped—but the table-scape signified some order and direction and it (almost) always sat arranged.
Over the years we’ve used so very many different placemats—mostly until they were embarrassingly haggard. I periodically discard or pass on what can still be useful to others. So, from the midst of this most common task a striking insistence surprisingly emerged.
Settled near the bottom of the heap.
These two specific sets.
The ones I can never throw away.
How can squares of material produce such breathtaking volume?
These were the everyday ones. The most durable. The ones that were the simplest to clean.
I remember how the boys loved the sewn-on pockets and how I was always finding sticks and toy cars and puzzle pieces in there.
I remember how the lace ones felt so refined when they were new and how Kinley chose them for every tea party.
I remember laying them out and straightening the edges and wiping them down and soaking them in soapy water to get the ketchup stains off.
I remember noisy chair scrapes and chattering voices and everyone taking hands around the table while someone worded a prayer.
I remember jokes and stories and fights and spills.
I remember tears and hugs and value and loss.
I remember being all together. Every day. All in one space.
Sometimes it drove us crazy. Sometimes it saved us.
Always it shaped us.
It indeed sneaks up on a soul.
All of it.
In the silence of a house completely vacant, I spent the morning sorting and sharing. Choosing and storing.
Among all the fresh acquisitions, these two worn out stacks rest to hold anchor.
Every lovely new piece well balanced on the restful weight of memory treasured in the foundation of these.