Remembering a kitchen – and thanking the parents that made it a home for me
By Christine Faria
For years, a funky thermometer hung on the side of the refrigerator. From it, extended the wire that originally held it to some tree outside. You had to be careful going by it, as it might snag your sweater if you rounded the corner too sharply into the galley kitchen. It was a weird hazard that no one had ever thought to move.
I had spent hours and hours in this particular kitchen in my best friend Jenna’s home; from the time we met at 15, even through my adulthood. And to this day, she makes me laugh ridiculously like no other. Her entire family is the only one that calls me “Chrissy.”
Her parents, Sandy and Dennis (Ma and Pops), took me on a family vacation to Disneyland when we were 16. I spent every Christmas Eve at their long-running, annual open house while my single-mom was working; I even went with them to parent/teacher nights in high school. Our time around their kitchen table was spent talking and laughing until we cried about the merits of the many boys we had crushes on or some other drama of high school. We confessed more adventures the older we got, protected by the fact that Ma and Pops couldn’t ground us anymore.
That unsightly thermometer became legend when Jenna’s blind date, Matt (arranged by me), got tangled in it, becoming thoroughly frazzled while meeting her parents for the first (and last) time.
Hard to believe that Ma and Pops were just 40 when I met them. They were easy to be around even with their high expectations of us to “act like ladies” and take school seriously (which, for the most part, we did). I dunno’, they always seemed engaged and entertained by our silliness. There was always room at their kitchen table for me and there was always laughter. They encouraged me in my photography and in my journalism; they trusted me at 16 to ferry their daughter around in my gas-guzzling 1970 Ford Mustang to and from school and even to the beach two hours away. Their home was the place to hang out.
I never saw them argue or witness any great disharmony – well, only when Pops was trying to get his family out the door for a road trip. From my perspective, their family, complete with their younger son, seemed blessed. It gave me faith that marriages could last the test of time and that not all dads left from divorce or death (I had lost my dad just a few years before).
When I met my future husband Jim in my early 20’s, he joined the Christmas Eve tradition at their home. And although he didn’t get caught in the thermometer, he made a name for himself eating practically an entire Pyrex tray of Ma’s cheesy casserole made with potatoes o’brien, Campbell’s cream of chicken soup, and topped with corn flakes and butter. After that, Ma planned for Jim’s appearance and never ran out of her special potatoes again.
On another Christmas Eve, we were all leaning against the kitchen counters, and in typical “Chrissy” fashion, I incorrectly explained that my brother Gil recently had surgery for his sleep apnea and had his vulva removed (instead of his uvula). We still lose control with laughter thinking about it.
A few weeks ago, I traveled from my home in Reno, NV, to the San Francisco Bay Area to spend time with Jenna, who was in from the East Coast to spend some time with her parents. I hadn’t seen them in three years, I’m embarrassed to say, and not since Ma had started showing signs of Alzheimer’s and then having a minor stroke.
Last year, they had sold their beloved two-story family home and moved into a condo in a town nearby – a practical decision due to Ma’s changing health. They had also stopped their Christmas Eve party after nearly 40 consecutive years. Jenna coached me that her mom still had her same spirit, but to expect that she would cry a lot.
We ended up all sitting around the kitchen table, like so many times before, telling stories that we’ve told a million times that still made us laugh. Ma laughed too, although it wasn’t as big of a laugh and she didn’t contribute to the storytelling, she just tried to follow along. She had several moments where she couldn’t come up with the right word (but shit, that happens to me all the time, so that wasn’t at all disturbing). The woman across from me was the same lady who treated me like a daughter for so many years, who filled in as a parent when my mom just couldn’t be there. But something was slightly off. Like she was an actor that no longer had passion playing her part. Later, Jenna needed to help her get ready for bed, as even something routine, like deciding what shoes to wear, can be overwhelming with this disease, even in an early stage.
That next morning, we had a long drive home, both of us silent for awhile. I was thinking that there may not be more talks around the kitchen table. My heart broke for Jenna, whose role was steadily changing with her parents and who was dealing with her mom disappearing in front of her eyes.
It never fails. When catastrophic illness and death affect those close to us, it’s a personal reality check. What if this disease happened to us? How much time do we really have left that we’re healthy enough to do all that we want to do?
Gets you thinking, right? … if there is anything we should be doing right NOW, to make sure that we have an overflowing bucket full of memories to laugh about around our own kitchen table? And, have we invested enough of ourselves to ensure that we will have friends to join us there? Do we regularly thank the people who have made a difference in our lives – especially our elders?
Hey, anyone want to get together over at my house tonight? My kitchen table is open.
PS – Do you have someone close to you that is experiencing memory loss? Don’t leave their stories to chance. Check out an article I wrote about an easy way to record the memories of your loved ones.
Originally published by Raving Consulting