The Thanksgiving Tablecloth, Part 2

After the last post, a friend wrote to ask me, "Do you think it's better to have a worn out tablecloth that's surrounded by people who love and appreciate one another or do you think it's better to sit around a table with a stiff white linen tablecloth where my husband and I are made to feel irrelevant and trust me there's no sincere appreciation anywhere in sight?"

I do think it’s better to have a worn-out tablecloth, and that’s really what that essay was about. Still, our lesser selves sometimes wonder why we don't have that fine china and matching decor.

When I was young, everyone everywhere told me how smart I was and how I was destined for great things. How I would go to an Ivy League. Most Likely to Succeed. Class Musician. Best All Around. When it came time for the Yearbook Superlatives photo shoot, they handed me a pile of Monopoly money and told me to smile for the camera.

We were standing in a deserted hallway and the late winter sun beat in from the plate glass windows. I looked at my fellow Most Likely to Succeed winner Harold, who also was bright but not driven by money either. We were horrified.

We were both being raised in messy old downtown homes. His dad was a copyeditor at the local newspaper, a rail of a man with thinning hair and a bushy mustache. Every day, he walked a mile up a busy street from his house to work, head down, so shy and silent he would never look up to greet passersby unless they went out of their way to say hello. He owned a vintage 1950s hearse for a time, and once in elementary school he drove the “gifted and talented” group to the library for a special project, with us six rolling around in the back, giggling and bickering. No seatbelts. Harold’s mom Dot was tall and rugged, not overly feminine. I remember her as a person who laughed a lot and stayed at home.

My own dad struggled to run a small swimming pool company; my mom helped part time in the office, but mostly she sat on the couch at home reading Harlequin romance novels. On the long, hot summer days I was so bored I spent my time poking and prodding at her for entertainment until she would put the book down and take me for a ride. Sometimes Dot and my mom would meet to play tennis at our shore-side playground Stephens Field, while Harold and I entertained ourselves balance-walking on the 4th of July stage scaffolding stored next to the courts. We were working class kids with odd families that made sure they raised their kids right.

Money = Success? You should see our scowls in the yearbook photo.

So here I am with my 20-year old tablecloth, a tired but cheery little Cape, and a yard that’s strewn with unraked leaves from our ten billion maple trees.

It is not the picture I had of my success, but what did I know? If you peek in the windows, you’re likely to see a laughing, loving, arguing little family having dinner together at the table. Some days, we have organic kale on our plates, but these days we're far more likely to have Ore-Ida frozen french fries. (Shhhhh. Don’t tell anyone.)

I always knew that lettuce is better than high fructose corn syrup, that balance is better than money, and that love matters. In Sunday School, I learned that you cannot serve both God and Mammon, and I did not forget.

The Buddhists say that neither our mind, nor our self, is static. It is evolving, always. There is no “you;” there is no solid "I." We change, we grow. That seventeen year old person in the yearbook is not the one I am today at 50.

But we do share some values. Thank God.

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