Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reunited and It felt So Good

One of the things that I have often thought about is why it is our brains can store away events or memories so deeply that we will not think of them for years, indeed, not even be aware that they are stored there until some scent or color or word hurls them to the forefront of our brain as vivid as the moment they happened. Such a thing happened to me this past weekend. I went to my 50th college reunion in Conway, Arkansas. I had graduated from Hendrix College; and except for two short visits to that campus, never given much thought to my experiences there. However, the school honors its fifty year alumni by inducting them into the Half Century Club by draping a medal around the alumnus/alumna’s neck and allowing them to speak briefly on their educational experience. Actually, the person introducing the process stated that we could talk about our life or the school or tell an anecdote. They began this process alphabetically so that as a Roberts (maiden name), I was pretty far down the list of speakers. While I waited, I heard a lot of serious speeches on the value of the Hendrix experience and the gratitude of those who received such a valued education. I, however, had only one thing that came barreling into my brain as soon as the word anecdote was spoken. It was something that I had not thought of even once since leaving the school but was as clear as if had happened the day before. The picture in my head was of Cleave Want who was an English professor back then who, among other things, taught a course in Victorian Literature. He came into class one day at the last possible minute, went to the front of the room and began his lecture. He must have talked for ten minutes or more before he noticed that our riveted attention was not on the context of his lecture but on the fact that he had a three inch diameter, perfectly circular, reddish-purple hickey in the center of his forehead. It was then that he felt compelled to tell us his story. Cleave and his wife had a young child, still an infant; and the previous day, the wife had left him in charge. In order to entertain his child, Cleave had removed a mobile from the crib which had been attached to the head of the crib by a large suction cup. He took it and the baby to the living room and lay down on the sofa with the child on his chest and stuck the mobile to his forehead. By bobbing his head around, he caused the child to giggle gleefully. Babies being babies, however, the child soon became bored and fell asleep. Cleave followed suit. An hour and a half later, his wife came home and found the two loves of her life still on the sofa; the child asleep on his father’s chest and her husband asleep with a weird, unicorn like projection in the middle of his forehead. He said that it had been a bit painful to remove. The most unusual thing about this story was that Cleave had somehow convinced himself that if he acted as if everything was normal, no one else would notice. That was what I talked about. What I didn’t get to and what I wish I had added was that I didn’t disagree with anyone about the value of my education or the friendships I had made in those four years. However, during those years, there had been some monumentally crazy things that happened at that school; and not for one minute did I believe that I was the only witness to them. All of this happened because the word anecdote was spoken in a long ago place among long ago friends. I had a great time connecting with some that were close friends then and getting acquainted with several people who were on the edge of the radar screen of my callow days. Some people had lives that were filled with travel and excitement. Some led lives of service. Some may have felt ordinary in the face of some of the achievements of others. Whatever they felt, we had survived for 50 years beyond that shining world marked by the election of JFK and the unconquerable spirit of Camelot. And more importantly, none of us discussed any of our ailments. We were happy to be alive to tell our tales; and I, for one, was happy to hear theirs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Gathering Place

My husband and I are getting ready to remodel our kitchen. When we bought this house, we loved everything about the layout and grounds, especially the huge attached garage and detached garage across from the house. It meant that the husband, a car buff, would have plenty of room for his toys and accompanying gear. The house needed some work as it was covered in dark wallpaper and had colors that were not to my taste. I know that one of the reasons it had not sold before we came along is that most people walk into to a house and are turned off by the owner’s taste or lack thereof. I am not one of those people. I have been blessed (or cursed) with the ability to see potential in the structure and layout.

One of the things that struck me was that while the kitchen looked “cute”, it was deceptive in its layout and function. There is plenty of room in the space, but it is all negated by poor arrangement and absence of essential function. The cabinets are few and there is a huge island with little cabinetry under it. Most of the island is table height and blocks the flow of traffic. There are deep soffits all around the perimeter that eat up valuable storage space. That huge island extends so deeply into the work area that there is barely room to squeeze around the dishwasher door when it is opened. In spite of that, folks walk in an immediately say, “What a nice kitchen.”

WRONG! There is almost nothing nice about it. For a while it bothered me that I was so unhappy with this space. I am not by nature an unhappy person, but this kitchen has been driving me crazy. I have pondered this for several months now and had an insight recently into the real problem.

We had a mini family reunion about a month ago when my cousin, Lenita, brought her mother, my Aunt Helen for a visit to Little Rock. They were going to visit all of Helen’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren because she is getting to the point that she doesn’t get around as well as she once did. We met at Helen’s daughter-in-law’s home in North Little Rock. This house is modest, but at some point had been expanded to include a large family room across the back. You would think that that would be the place for everyone to sit and visit. But you guessed it, we all sat or stood in the eat-in kitchen. No one complained that it was crowded or that there were not enough chairs to go around. You see, the kitchen is the hub of such gatherings whether they are joyous as this one was or sad as post funeral family gatherings are. In our family, kitchens are where decisions are made, gossip exchanged, arguments settled and lots of love shown through an abundance of food and drink.

My kitchen is hard to feel cozy and familiar in. It seems to close in rather than embrace. We like to prepare meals where there are as many cooks as there are folks sitting down to eat. And we like to micro-manage the cooking of all the other cooks. You can’t do that in a cramped space. This kitchen doesn’t have enough room in its business area to swing a cat; and while I am averse to swinging the cat, I like to think that I have the option.

So we are ripping the place out to the walls, recessing the refrigerator into part of the pantry, replacing soffits with tall upper cabinets and diminishing the size of the island and moving it out of the hub of the work area. I have drawn up the plans, and I like what I see. We will be able to party and cook and hug and laugh and boss each other around when it’s finished. However, for the next couple of months, I’ll be needing your heartfelt prayers for my sanity. We’ve done this before, and my children remind me that I don’t deal particularly well with chaos.

Hopefully, I’ll have before and after pictures to share. And I might even invite you over to join in the fun.