The Gathering Place

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If my house caught fire, assuming everyone was safely out and I had only a few minutes to retrieve a few material possessions, I would head straight for my boxes of old photographs and for the boxes that contain a few small items which belonged to, or were given to me by, loved ones. A handkerchief  that was embroidered by my mom, a tiny leather coin purse containing a cross which my grandfather gave to my dad as he left to enlist in the Army, little gifts that my kids made for me when they were young – those things are more valuable to me than any other material possession I might own and could never be replaced.

I, of course, would not even attempt to get my kitchen table out of the house, but it would be the one piece of furniture that I would hate to see burn.

As I sit at that table with a cup of hot coffee, I run my hand along the surface and I feel the nicks and see the scratches that serve as reminders of so many moments in time.

That table has been the centerpiece for every kind of of meal imaginable, from barbecues to Mexican fiestas, grilled cheese lunches to fancy steak dinners, early morning eggs to late night snacks.  Huge spreads have been placed upon it to celebrate graduations and birthdays, wedding engagements and baby dedications.

Cupcakes and brownies have sat upon it, waiting to be iced, and freshly-baked Christmas cookies, waiting to be boxed and delivered to friends. Valentines have been created,  plastic eggs have been stuffed, and pumpkins have been painted on that table. Presents have been wrapped and unwrapped upon it. It has been decorated with streamers and hats and party blowers.

Countless Play Dough parties have been held on that table. It has served as a parking lot for little cars, a pasture for plastic farm animals, and a field for little ponies. Barbie dolls and super heroes have skipped across it. It has been painted on, colored on, and stained from egg dye. Stuffed animals have eaten pretend food on it. Balls have rolled over it. Some babies have crawled across it. A few tears have fallen on it.

School assignments and work projects have been completed on that table. Party plans and wedding plans have been created on it. It has held boxes of old photographs as they were being organized as well as mounds of laundry as it was being folded. It has been adorned with fresh-cut flowers, sweet treats and bowls of fruit,changing with every season.

Neighbors have gathered around it for Bible studies, my kids’ friends have gathered around it to consume mountains of food, and my granddaughter’s friends have gathered around it in their princess gowns to sip pink tea. Relatives have helped us celebrate holidays around that table, and we’ve gotten to know new friends around it, as well.

It doesn’t matter if the table is filled with bacon, biscuits, and eggs or hamburgers, brats, and hot dogs. Whether we place shrimp pasta, hot breads, and fresh salad on the table, or a simple stack of pizza boxes, it is always served up with interesting conversation. It’s where we get to catch up on what is happening in our children’s lives, share funny stories with and about our grandchildren, and make plans for future vacations or celebrations. We encourage one another in our struggles, celebrate new accomplishments, and laugh. There’s always much laughter.

It’s a good thing when we have to dig out the folding chairs to add around the table, because “the more the merrier.” But it’s also nice when only a couple of chairs are filled. I have loved the times when I’ve sat at the table and watched my daughter draw a sketch of a friend or sew sequins on a tutu for her niece. I love it when my son stops by for “just a few minutes” and we end up sitting and talking for an hour over a cup of coffee. I love talking with my daughter-in-law as we sit there and watch the kids playing nearby. And I love it when it’s just my husband and me, sitting and talking about our kids, grand kids, faith, politics, grand kids, future plans, work, dreams and goals… and grand kids.

Even when I’m the only one at the table, it never feels lonely, for I’m usually accompanied by my Bible, or prayer cards, or photo books, or writing journal. Those are the moments when I notice the scratches and marks. There was probably a time in my life when those scratches might have bothered me a little bit, but no longer. I now see them as memory etchings, for they are a reminder of all that my family has experienced as we’ve gathered around the table.

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It’s just a large piece of wood with legs but it’s sturdy. Thank goodness for that , for a mountain of love, joy, tears, and laughter have been heaped upon it.

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