Cracked, then Repaired: Our Thanksgiving Bowl Was Full

I spent a only a few minutes on Facebook on Black Friday, unsure about how I felt about all those smiling faces sitting at perfectly set tables, those white tablecloths and matching plates gleaming in candlelight. In my camera roll, I have a photo of our table too, before everyone arrived.

Oh... Martha Stewart does not live here. We shared no photos, so our feast was ours alone that day. At our table, we had slung two mismatched tablecloths across white plastic folding tables in turquoise-walled, makeshift office turned dining room.

The first cloth, Steve and I bought at Caldor department store (RIP) in Assembly Square when we had our first apartment together in Medford in 1999, just a few months after he'd finally moved here from Ireland to give it a go with this American writer/musician chick. It is striped in yellow, orange, and turquoise, and it is cotton. It was the only tablecloth like it, and it was from Italy. "It's kind of expensive," my thirty-year-old self thought, as I bent over to pick it up from the bottom shelf of the textiles aisle. The cool, linoleum tile was speckled, the color of crushed bone. Should we spend $40 on a tablecloth? "We'll always have it," Steve said. He was right; we still do. It has a hole in it, and a stain from where someone crafted. More than once, it has been left outside for days after a summer party, and it has gotten a bit dirty. I have bleached it, and the edging that used to be royal is now turquoise. That's fine. Now it matches our kitchen counter (c. 1959).

The other tablecloth, I bought that at Christmas Tree Shop in early November for $2.99. It was an impulse buy, something I picked up as I sped to the service counter to return the cloud-blue curtains I'd bought in August when we first got back from our summer in Ireland, cut short because everyone was dying. I didn't want blood-red blackout curtains in the bedroom anymore. Now, November, I would return one extra curtain while the family waited in the car. En route to Returns, I picked up this cornflower plastic tablecloth adorned with geometric squirrels, foxes, oak, leaves, and acorns in shades of brown and russet. It was the only one left. I saw it and envisioned this day, when it would cover the Thanksgiving table in the blue room my brother-in-law helped me empty last August while Steve was still in Ireland and I was heavy with grief and caregiver's overload.

The chairs don't match, either. There are six cherry chairs with lipstick-red vinyl seats bought at a restaurant supply store for our renters before we headed to Ireland last summer. The chairs didn't arrive in time, so they sat boxed in the garage all summer waiting for us to return. They are sturdy; they stand up to crafts and don't kill your arse if you happen to sit with friends for hours over beer and song. The other four chairs, we pulled up from the basement. I bought them from a chiropractor friend in Cambridge twenty years ago. Cherry, simple, handmade, rush seats. Gorgeous then, but now showing their twenty years of travel, yogurt, crafts, spilled beer. There's glitter in the cracks. We will keep them hidden away 'til we have the time, energy, and money to restore them.

The dishes. Fiestaware in rainbow array, optimistically arranged so that no color is repeated in any setting. The silverware: a set from our wedding, discontinued, amended with random forks, knives, and spoons accumulated on our travels: discards from roommates, utensils left by visitors after parties. Three different styles of glasses: Five from IKEA (one missing). Three others Steve bought at Home Goods (one missing). The last glass, we don't know where it came from. (Come get your glass, whoever you are.)

We enjoyed our meal, even though it was three hours later than expected. We didn't take a smiling group photo, but we savored the food and each other, however loaded. My Dad and Uncle Paul are gone this year, not forgotten; we left an extra place setting in case someone showed up in need.

When we finally sat down to eat, my brother stood up to give the blessing. Neither he, nor anyone, has ever done that in our home. In past years, he sat at the table and stared at his phone, speaking to almost no one: anxious around his father, a little scared of his older brother; still too angry at his older sister to speak. But she's now living in memory care, so maybe he has forgiven. More likely, he has forgotten, due to the three strokes he had this summer.

Now, this moment. This year. He said he's happy to have recovered most of his speech. He's glad he's able to stand and walk again, though his walker is in the other room. He repeats himself a lot and he calls his daughter four times a day. He is so happy we are all together, and he's happy for the first full day out of the hospital in two months, even if it's only the one day. And he is so grateful for his daughter. His voice cracks, the way it does every time he mentions her name. We are all so grateful. "We love you, too, Dad," Sam says, and we raise our  glasses.

As I savor the sip, I look across at our table. Cousins, husbands, sisters, brothers, and a boyfriend who we all hope we can keep forever: Nine. Placesettings: Ten. Colorful, random, slightly worn but still vibrant, echoing perfectly the careworn history that has brought us cracked and repaired to celebrate this feast together.

Blessed, indeed.

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