Sunday, February 2, 2014

The bench

I am at the age when nostalgia is activated by some of the smallest, oddest occurrences. Today, it was a bench.

Yesterday, I attended an all day science conference. When I am away from home on the weekend, David will often decide to get projects done and this time, one of the projects was to buy two chairs to replace the bench that has been a part of our dining room table since we were a new family.

Today, I was thinking about that bench and all that it represented. I remembered that day we bought the table, which came with that bench, and I remembered the reasons we needed it. In July, 2004, we became a family of seven - a combined family which had started off as two families - one with four and one with three. The four of us (my three biological children and myself) moved in with the three of them (David and his two biological children) and did the best we could with a small house that was furnished for three.

The dining room table we started off with was not necessarily small - it would comfortably seat six and no more. For a few months, when it was time to have a meal together, we would pull up a folding chair to give the 7th person, usually Nathan, since he was the youngest, a place to sit. This person had to sit on a corner of the table. We made it work because we really didn't think we could afford a new table. When we had guests, we brought the sewing chair or more folding chairs and crowded in.
The table during home renovations in 2012

One day, I saw an ad for World Market which featured a dining room table that had a bench and it wasn't too expensive. David and I went to the store and brought home the table we have today.

The bench represented something - an acknowledgement that our families had become one - that we were always going to need at least seven places at our table. A new chapter in our lives.

So when David replaced the bench with two chairs, it was more than a furniture change, it felt like it represented a significant milestone in our family dynamic. Now that we are back to being a family of four because the three oldest broke our number one rule - "don't grow up" - and did just that, it makes sense to have more formal seating at the table.

The memories of our small children, then ages 2-12, seated around the table and the often cacophonous conversations that took place there are precious in my mind. I remember times when all of the kids would be gone over spring break (visiting their other families), and the silence was so heavy in the house that I didn't want to be there. The first day that all of them would be back was a joy - it reminded me of the first day of summer camp. That time when lots of people arrived at approximately the same time who hadn't seen each other for awhile. The laughter, loud conversations, conflicts arising as everyone settled back into their bedrooms in our little house. I remember each of those days fondly, as I sat and soaked in the noise. That first family meal after everyone returned was centered around that table. My life always felt right again as I watched the activity and listened to the stories they all had to tell.

A bench prompted these memories. The table, too large for those of us who are left, still fills our dining room, and the bench lurks under the guitar wall, protecting the guitars from misguided shoulders and waiting until the next time we need to seat more than six. We haven't completely gotten rid of the big family table, but it still feels almost like an ending to a movie, with the sequel having already begun.