“The first thing my Pap said was ‘Give her a hug, you can’t hurt her now’.”
My kitchen is largely occupied by my old, dirty, warm-brown dinner table.
It’s seen better days. Every time I sit down, I’m surrounded by splatters of old paint, hot glue and the occasional dab of nail polish (that’s thanks to my older sisters). Whenever I sit at either of our two chairs, I have to be extra careful they don’t fall apart because the legs are held together by a tedious mixture of wood glue, brute force and pure spite.
The kitchen table itself has been the hub of my family for the entire first half of my life. When I was younger, we (my Gram, Pap and two older sisters) would eat a home-cooked meal, courtesy of my Gram, at that old, dirty, warm-brown dinner table at exactly 7 p.m. every single night.
At these family dinners, I would argue with my Pap for fun, watch him get yelled at by my Gram for interrupting me eating my dinner and listen to my sisters either fight or joke; it was always a gamble. Originally, my kitchen table had five sturdy wooden seats. A couple years later when my oldest sister was 16 years old and I was 8, the chair count lowered to four, as my oldest sister moved out. She fought too much with my Gram and wouldn’t follow the rules, so she left.
Three years later my grandmother was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. That triggered a few more changes to our dinner table routine. First, my other older sister started to skip dinners. Not because of the inevitable food quality decline (cancer messes with your taste buds and overall cooking abilities), but because she was never home. I don’t think that she wanted to be around post-cancer-diagnosis Gram.
The chair count dropped to three. The dinners themselves after a year or so were much less frequent, not so much because of my Gram, but because my Pap was determined to make Gram rest. She ignored my Pap’s concerns, so it sort of ended up in a middle gray area that I had to live in.
A year and a half after my grandmother got cancer, she died. It may sound quick in words, but it was pretty dragged out. Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandmother, but people with cancer are usually dead long before they die.
I was there when she died, right smack dab in the middle of our living room. I was on one side of the bed, and my Pap was on the other. Her labored breaths slowed and then stopped. It sounds depressing, but it was sort of a happy moment. The first thing my Pap said was “Give her a hug, you can’t hurt her now.” And, despite the phlegmy cancer smell, I did. We only needed two chairs.
After that, Pap and I, with the remnants of our nontraditional American family, built an extra nontraditional family. It took a while before we stabilized ourselves, because, to be honest, we were low-income before grandma got cancer, but post-cancer was much worse.
Pap and I cut down on everything. We got rid of our cable, phone and internet. We used less oil, we used less water, we wasted less food, and at times we didn’t have a car because our minivan took up a bunch of gas and liked to break down frequently. But, despite a dreadfully boring WiFi-less and phoneless year, we made it through.
I still live in the same house, except now it has Wi-Fi. Our kitchen table is still standing, though we took the center piece of wood out so now it’s the perfect size for just the two of us. We don’t have nightly dinners anymore, but sometimes Pap and I sit on the couch and hang out.
Sure, maybe our coffee table chats aren’t the same as our nightly family dinners, and maybe our television doesn’t turn on anymore. Maybe our kitchen has ants, and maybe we have to listen to the Super Bowl on our outdated radio from the ’90s, and maybe, possibly, he is getting sicker now, too.
I don’t care that my new life revolves around a holey old couch, a grumpy old man, a couple of fat cats and a bearded dragon. I’m content with my Pap, and I’m content with the fact that every night at 7 p.m., two empty chairs surround my old, dirty, warm-brown dinner table in the darkness of my kitchen. These days, the lights are on in the living room.