Sunday, April 27, 2014

Another Place at the Table

Yesterday was the bridal shower for one of my daughter's best friends.  During the week I helped her design and assemble the floral arrangements.  I love working with flowers, and Jen is very artistic, so it was a pleasure to work beside her as she created the centerpieces.  We loaded the flowers into her car late in the morning, and she left to help the other bridesmaids set up for the shower.  When I walked into the restaurant later, I was awed at the beautiful venue the girls had chosen. 

After greeting the bride-to-be and her mother, I sat at a table with three of Jen's long-time friends.  How fortunate I felt to have some time with them all.  I was reminded how swiftly life flows.  It seems that it was just yesterday these same girls sat around my kitchen table, talking of school and boys and parties.  And now, they are grown up, two of them with children of their own.  I have always felt blessed that my children's friends spent so much time at my house when they were young.  With a four-year age difference between each of my three children, our home was often filled with friends of vastly different ages and interests.  And how joyful it was to watch them all interact and enjoy each other's company.  I loved them all, and those were the best of times -- a house filled with chatter and laughter and "life."

So many memories drifted through my heart as I pondered those lovely years.  I remember the sleepovers in the elementary school years -- one of my son's friends ALWAYS wanted peanut butter and toast for his evening snack.  The boys usually congregated  noisily downstairs to watch TV, but even in early childhood, the girls preferred to shut themselves away in my daughter's room to share their secrets and dreams.  I remember summers camping near Lake George, with a camper filled with so many young people I had to step carefully through the sleeping bags and blankets in the morning to turn on the coffee.  I remember waiting up until everyone came home from their evening wanderings -- sometimes to listen to their stories, and other times to lie quietly in bed and listen to their footsteps coming up the stairs -- just to know they were all safely back for the night.  I remember trips to Brueggers on Sunday morning so the girls could wake up to warm bagels.  There were almost always extra plates at the supper table -- I will always cherish those meals, when we could just pull up an extra chair for a latecomer.

And now, in what seems like a heartbeat, they are all grown up.  The strong ties of friendship have remained, though, so I still see these "children of my heart" occasionally.  The gangly little boys who have grown into handsome, responsible young men, and the beautiful little girls who have become even more lovely as young women.  I have celebrated their marriages; I have held their babies in my arms, and watched them grow.  Those early days were crazy and exhausting and tremendous fun.  I will always be thankful for those times of togetherness, tears, and laughter. How quiet the house seems now.

Yesterday, I felt blessed to once again sit at the candlelit table with "my girls" and enjoy the beautiful restaurant, the delicious food, the anticipation of the wedding to come, and the company of these lovely young women.  Life moves swiftly past us, and we must savor the moments of togetherness and the days of celebration, and store them away to ponder in our hearts.

Flowers by J P Designs

Sunday, April 6, 2014

For the Love of a House

A recent increase in our local tax assessment was a shock to me.  While our house is large and in a good neighborhood, its market value is far below the assessment.  In an attempt to prepare for a "review" with the town, I listed the major repairs that need to be made in our house, and took photos of the well-worn circa 1980's kitchen, the upstairs bathroom with curling wallpaper and outdated fixtures and tile, and the wood floors and mouldings that are in dire need of sanding and finishing.

Even as I was taking this critical view of my house, in my heart I was seeing this beloved old home that has a warmth and charm no amount of disrepair can tarnish.  The kitchen, with its faded old vinyl flooring, scratched cabinetry, blemished counters and mismatched appliances, is still the heart of our home.  When my children were young, the kitchen was the center of my life.  Preparing three nutritious meals a day, baking cakes, cookies and bread, enjoying the chatter and laughter of the children gathered around the table, and savoring heartfelt conversations with good friends over a soothing cup of tea or glass of wine filled the hours of my days.  Today, it is my grandchildren who sit with us at the kitchen table, and the aromas more often than not are of soups simmering and vegetables and herbs sauteeing on the stove.  New ivory colored cabinets, a farmer's sink, and a cushioned vinyl floor are the stuff of my dreams now for this kitchen, but it is still functional and filled with the memories of the beloved faces that have graced this table through all of these years.  What to a new buyer would mean a total "gut job", to me shelters a little bit of each beloved soul who has lingered here for sustenance and love.

As I snapped the photo of my bedroom with the morning light filtering through the lace curtains, I was a bit embarrassed by the abundant clutter.  The extra blankets that warmed me the night before were still covering the bed; the room was just as I had left it in the early morning hours; how I love this room, though.  The plaster ceilings may be cracked, and the floor just poorly painted 1880's sub-flooring, but this room holds so many of my treasured family heirlooms.  The chest at the foot of my bed was my grandmother's hope chest, and now holds my old wedding gown, crocheted doilies, and a beautiful tablecloth that was embroidered by a favorite great-aunt.  My mother's battered dressing table graces one wall, covered with jewelry, perfume bottles, mirrors and trinkets that my grandchildren love to play with.  The teddy bear collections of my mother and sister are arranged on tall shelves in the corner -- a reminder every morning of these two women I loved.  This is more than a lovely, sun-filled bedroom, its lovingly gathered contents remind me each day of all of these women whom I have loved so dearly. 

The living room is a hodgepodge of furniture, with cracked plaster and scarred floors, but family pictures abound on the walls, my grandchildren's books spill from the shelves under the TV, and my grandfather's desk is the emotional focal point for me.  That desk is one of my earliest concrete memories of my childhood home.  It stood in a little nook by the front door, and was a favorite of mine.  Several years ago, my father-in-law worked magic on the old scratched desk, and refinished it to a lovely piece which I know would make my grandfather very proud.  Above the desk hangs the gild-framed mirror that was always on the wall in my grandparent's apartment.  I look in the mirror at the sixty-three year old face that looks back, and remember the little-girl face that gazed back at me from the same mirror across the years.  The large bay windows in the living room are reflected in the mirror, and I see not the mismatched furniture and flaws, but a lovely room with warmth and history -- a room that has watched generations grow and holds the secret joys and sorrows of each person whose story has unfolded within its walls.

 The dining room is painted a deep burgundy, with a flowered wallpaper border that speaks of the 1990's; the floors are scratched, and a long crack in the plaster runs from ceiling to floor on one wall, but, as the early morning sunshine strikes the silver tea service, its beauty takes my breath away.  The room is filled with old family pieces -- the table and sideboard from my husband's paternal grandparents, and a lovely little china cabinet that belonged to his maternal grandmother.  A corner cabinet holds my beautiful Old Country Roses china, which I collected piece by piece over the years.  My teapot and teacup collections are displayed on the walls.  Anyone appraising the market value of this house would look askance at this room with its dark walls and dated wallpaper border.  But, sunshine fills the room in the morning, and the glow of candles lights the faces of those gathered around the large table as friends and family join together for special dinners and celebrations.  This room is rich in beauty and abundant in welcome for anyone who wants to sit and share the bounty of good food and warm companionship.
And so, I gather together the photos I have taken of the serious structural flaws of this old house.  Hopefully the assessor will agree with me that no buyer would possibly pay the currently assessed value for a house such as this which needs such expensive repair and renovation.  But, this experience has made me love her even more, for I have been looking at her not only with the critical eye of an appraiser, but with the eyes of one who has known her welcome and her shelter for over forty years.  She has watched me grow from a young, childless woman to an aging grandmother.  She has witnessed both my days of utter ecstasy, and my darkest hours, and all of the ordinary days in between.  She has been my haven through it all.  Is she worth what the tax assessor has declared her to be worth?  Definitely not.  But to me "her price is far above rubies."  (Proverbs 31:10)  Of course, I don't want the tax assessor to know that!!