Old as I am, I still have memory of each relative and every guest I join at the table. Silently sitting in the presence of family and friends witnessing their unique characters, their adventurous tales, and even their passionate arguments I swell with history. Stories emanate from my fiber.
Any refugee could tell my difficult emigration to this place, as a story. My family fled when the trouble began. People filled with hatred disrupting quiet neighborhoods, frightening grown men and young boys alike drove our family out. They terrorized our women. A plight quite typical of oppressed people anywhere in the world today mirrored thousands of times over. Young as I was, my memory is stamped with images that still haunt me. I carry my scars and bruises to this day.
Packed and pressed into trunks and hand-carried cases went all the precious possessions. Sepia colored daguerreotypes and some photographs lay in the bottom of a battered case. Atop them, wrapped in linen, the two silver wine chalices. Finally, a mixture of shirts and trousers covered the rest, as a disheveled pile, and was smashed under the tight lid of the overstuffed case.
Our family carted only those things, which they could run with, nothing weighty that might slow our progress. We escaped at night, carried by foot, down dark alleys and through dense forests, crossing the border by moonlight. This is where the family split into two groups. The women and girls took seamstress’ jobs in the sooty town; the men and boys worked the farms. Diligently they worked, everyone, to buy passage to America.
I care not to discuss our uncomfortable passage across the wild ocean. Recalling sickness, cramped quarters and lack of warmth cause heartache. The loss of the youngest girl, a tragic event, cannot be erased. Enough, it was enough, to be gathering, together, even though we sat upon each other on that ship.
Stories, so many stories, locked inside my silence. Yet, my family tends to me with gentle touches, loving glances, and softness that assure their reverence to me in my old age. I observe them all with delight.
Tumult and activity fill our house today as they prepare for Anna’s engagement dinner. The women, busy in the kitchen with cooking and cleaning, chatter as they work; the little ones dash in and out stealing tidbits of food from the serving trays.
Aunt Viv yells to Aunt Elaine, “You can’t put the olives with the celery; the juice will run.” Aunt Elaine reprimands cousin David, “Keep those fingers off the trays young man.” Raucous noise, noisy as the Tower of Babel, ensues as the Aunties and older cousins clean chickens, assemble casseroles and bake sweet pastries.
Fresh garden flowers placed in vases decorate the living room and dining room. Their fragrance permeates the air; I enjoy their vivid colors. Rose, as a captain at the helm, has a knack for entertaining; keeping the women to their tasks, arranging flowers and organizing menus are her specialty.
Tonight, in honor of her daughter, Rose sees that each detail lovingly contributes to the celebration. Anna’s betrothed brings his parents to dinner at five o’clock. Rose’s house hums, to her tight schedule, like meshing gears.
The men return to the house, after a game of pool at the downtown bar, to carve chickens, empty trash, and smoke cigars on the porch until the company arrives.
Anna arrives through the kitchen door, as intoxicating aromas escape to the neighborhood. Glowingly she kisses each aunty thanking them for their help. In turn, each aunty places a kiss on Anna’s forehead.
Anna asks, “Where is Mama?” Aunty Viv tells her, “Oh you know your Mama, and she has to be the one set the table.”
Anna slowly enters the dining room. Rose is fussing over each place setting, making certain that each is precisely arranged. Anna stands in disbelief watching Rose measure the distance from the plates to the forks with her fingers.
Unable to contain herself, Anna bursts out, “Mama, Mama, why are you using that dirty old cloth? It is filled with wine stains, writing upon it and tatters in the lace!”
A hush moves over the kitchen as the aunts wander into the room. Anna verges on tears, “Mama, this is my engagement dinner, how could you do this?”
Rose quietly says, “Anna darling, this is our most precious cloth. Our family carried this cloth by foot through dark alleyways, dense forests and across an ocean.”
Aunt Viv offers, “This cloth graces our table in every home we inhabit, for every special occasion. If this cloth could talk, oh, the stories it could tell you.”
Aunt Elaine says, “Each wine stain from a different aunt, uncle or cousin, signed by their hand upon the cloth; each time we gather, they must sit by their stain. Each tatter in that lace made from a baby’s hand rubbing it while nursing marks a generation.”
Anna gently moves to the dining table. Moving slowly around the table, she pats the puckers and creases until they evenly relax and smooth. Anna gazes at the sparkling crystal wine glasses, the shiny silver utensils and, finally, the delicately patterned china plates concealing some of the fragile tears and wine stains.
In my silence, spread across the table, I feel the love and honor from my family. Soon I will live with Anna.