The kitchen is on the north side of the house. The bay window over the sink faces the weathered but dignified rows of Norway pines that surround the back yard. In the corner of the kitchen there is a bowl of limes, hard as stones and brown with age, a pair of expensive binoculars for watching birds and a block of extremely sharp knives. In the other corner, on the south side of the wall, is a wooden table with three rush-bottomed chairs. The table has stains from watercolors and crayons. There are rings from scalding gravy boats and heavy cast-iron skillets. There are gashes from pumpkin carving knives and sticky spots from cookie dough.
Every night the four of us sit around the table and say grace and a Hail Mary before supper. There is a candle burning in the center, sometimes two, maybe a vase of flowers and always a statue of Mary or the Infant of Prague. Before broadcasting went digital, we had a little Sony TV with rabbit ears so we could watch the news and Paul Douglas on the weather channel. Sometimes during lunch the Andy Griffith show would be on, sometimes Bonanza, other times Star Trek, all of which went very well with our reheated leftovers.
As I got older, the table became a place of debate and discussion: if the music would ever get better at Mass, if the Democrats would win the presidency, if daylight savings time would ever be canceled. Other times, it would revolve around our cousins who were still living at home after college, if Dad would ever go to confession with the rest of us on Saturdays instead of watching Crime Story in the easy chair, if I would ever learn to think before I spoke. There were tears. There were fights. There were things I have purposely forgotten.
When I left home for college, I would always think of the table: my sister sitting where I used to be, Dad chewing loudly and never looking up, Mom staring straight ahead at the greasy white wall. I taste the difference between food cooked with love and food mass-produced by cafeteria workers. I think of our conversations while I sit at a single table and silently consume energy for studying. I think of the friends we have laughed with around that table, the guests we have tolerated and tried our best to entertain. I never knew how much I would miss a stained, warped, scratched piece of wood.