By Emma Gail Compton
I made the table I eat dinner at. The wood was cheap but sturdy. The stain I chose is a dark oaky red and makes the small round table seem more expensive than it was. One could find something similar at any store, but this table, my table, I made. I measured and cut and sanded and stained. One of the legs is darker than the others because I let the stain sit for an hour longer by accident; my best friend called me for help on a chicken recipe and we talked for too long about the young man she was inviting over for the first time.
While I do love my table, I don’t always treat it the way I should. I chop onions on its surface, denting and scarring its back. The bend down to get my cutting board is often too tiring. I like to think that my table doesn’t mind; as long as I eat something, it is happy to be an understudy.
Three days ago, I bought a bag of potatoes. They came in a waxy flossy wire bag. The paper label at the top fell off in my car when I set my groceries down. It makes me feel very adult to complain about poorly constructed bags that hold root vegetables. I peeled the potatoes into the sink, and chopped them on my table. They were small and deformed, now they are neat cubes. Into the boiling water they go and then the timer is set.
I grate and press garlic into a small bowl and fill it with oil. I add milk to the bowl slowly and gently. The potatoes have softened under the rolling boil. I drain the water and mash them with a wooden spoon: the spoon a gift from my mother, the aggression a gift from my father.
I combine everything in a blue plastic bowl, for which the accompanying lid was lost decades ago in my grandmother’s kitchen. It is an heirloom, not because it is particularly expensive, or beautiful, (I am sure it was cheap at the time of it’s purchase, and the scratches carved into it over decades of intense use make it no more appealing) but because I remember eating macaroni salads, potato salads, watermelons, mashed potatoes, green beans, egg-tuna salad spreads, and leftover thanksgiving stuffing out of it. The flavors have simmered into the plastic, and season everything with gentle love.
The orange of the sun fits itself around the plants in the window sill and lights up the soft white of my kitchen walls. I wipe the soft dented wood of my table down with a damp cloth. The deep red surface shines with the moisture. I set out my favorite plates. They are a pink glass, so light you can see the knots and dents of the table through them. Small strawberries and flowers were long ago carved into them; the love of the artist remains in the art. I bought the plates at a vintage store for a hundred dollars. I sometimes allow myself indulgences like this to make it through the next month or so. I know I will never have a true use for fine china, but knowing that I could serve so many people a hot meal on good plates fills me with a warmth I have not often known in this life.
A fragment of my life has been full of love and kindness, and for that I am grateful. I chose this fragment. I will choose the slow, orange, air of early October, every day. I will choose it in January and I will choose it in June. If you try, you can feel the welcoming blow of an Autumn wind in the rust-grooved bicycle pedals of teenagers on their way to the pool. You can feel the crunching leaves in the slicing of water melons and vegetables. You can feel the faint symphony of gentle air in the whistle of a Little League umpire.
Anger fills my memories of sitting behind my mother after church, always the driver’s side so she couldn’t see my face. I hid from my sin and my pain and everything that was wrong with me, until it digested my stomach and I couldn’t eat. Everything I did was a sin. I enjoyed sinning too – until Sunday mornings and the Saturday afternoons when I woke up alone. The pain that followed my nature destroyed my body.
Now that pain is gone, my nature is rewarded. My mind no longer destroys my body for sport. I cook freely and often. I create foods that before I would not enjoy for fear of its heaviness, and my own. I enjoy the power of creation. I enjoy the addition of sugar and salt and whole milk. I enjoy the moment on my lips. There are no crosses or scales in my home, my children will never know that pain. I disappoint my ancestors and my children thank me for it.
I shovel potatoes onto the plates; there are five set around the small table. Five servings of garlic and butter and potatoes. The plates will be filled soon. The family I share no blood with does not ring my bell, they enter freely into my home and life. They will bring bread and butter and meat covered in gravy. They will bring recipes from their new homes. They will tell stories of their children and their partners.
I walk to my small living room and brush off Oliver. I wait with book in hand to hear my door open. My love will be home soon with fresh bread. I know she will have a light pink lipstick smearing off of her lower lip, a product of her outlawed coffee stop at the cafe around the corner. Her hands will be buzzing, I will ignore it and she will smile. The small things get us through.