“The only way to truly feel peace and joy is to live fully in the present.” C.S. Lewis
I wish we’d known it would be the last, but, of course, you never do. Every Sunday after church, for who knows how many years, we made our little trek to Grandmom and Grandad’s for Sunday dinner. Their home on Causeway Drive at Wrightsville Beach; we referred to it as simply, “the beach”.
This was our routine: We pulled the drop leaf table away from the wall to the center of the living room. We set the table leaves up, covered the table with the plastic table cloth and then atop went the nice linen cloth of Grandmom’s choosing; the white, yellow or blue one. We set the table with silverware, napkins and some sort of center piece. There was always a new plant from the grocery, pansies or roses from the yard.
We took turns walking upstairs to collect enough chairs for everyone. It’s so funny when I think of the awkwardness and inconvenience that had become so routine. Regular instructions were given as to which chairs to collect and in what rooms they’d be found. If I got there first, I’d sometimes wait for the younger family members to fetch chairs because that seemed appropriate. We counted heads about 5 times to get the number right, and even then it never was. We’d add or take away a setting because we never knew for sure who would show up.
My mother-in-law, Billie, is the most hospitable and generous person I know and we took advantage by inviting whomever we hankered to lunch. Because of varying numbers of guests, we, the older members, would go last in the buffet line in case the serving dishes were emptied. The amount always seemed to work. If there ever happened to be food left, Grandmom would insist that she DID NOT want any leftovers. I always found that to be extremely generous since I LOVED having leftovers!
Mae would usually show up right as we were about to sit down to eat. She’d walk in through the interior entrance from the duplex next door. Always she’d say, “Is there anything I can do?” But she timed her arrival so perfectly there usually wasn’t. She was a hoot! “How tall are you?” she’d faithfully ask Katherine. “When will you graduate?” she’d say to John. To Tom she’d say, “You never gain any weight, do you?” All was well until one day she said to me, “Myra, you do have to watch your weight, don’t you?” (that on the heels of the comment about Tom ALWAYS STAYING SLENDER.) “Yes, I do, Mae (ugh…)”.
All of us laughed every week. We’d roll our eyes and turn our heads and grin because the SAME EXACT THINGS were repeated every week. But it was what we did. It was an era of our lives. It is who we are: family. Martin was a regular addition, as was Tavitris, Grey, David and many more. I’ll never forget all the laughter; Grandmom and Grandad regularly got tickled over all the silliness.
We ALWAYS had dessert. Chocolate pound cake, hummingbird cake, berry cobbler with ice-cream; those were some of the most popular. No matter the dessert selection, Grandad would say, “That’s my favorite!”. Grandmom would say her daddy expected dessert after every meal and she’d carried on the tradition. She was the BEST cake baker on the planet. My personal favorites were hummingbird cake and carrot cake! I’d often be truly too full for dessert, saying that I’d pass on it when it was offered. Always I dreaded saying no to her dessert because I felt that it hurt her feelings a little bit.
I don’t think we realized how much we loved Mae and all the routine and the random people until after the last time. We didn’t know it was the last so we didn’t celebrate it. Grandmom’s cooking began to change….let’s just say we were a little concerned with with her safety in the kitchen using the stove. Anyway, one Sunday I decided to host the meal at our house. Mae had experienced a health incident and was being evaluated for an assisted living facility, Grandad was experiencing ongoing health issues and it became difficult for him to come and for us to keep the same schedule. Just like that, everything changed. That gathering that we enjoyed for so many years was gone forever.
Life is full of unknowns. As I revisit our long-standing tradition at Grandmom’s table, I’m reminded that the only way I can celebrate the “lasts” is to celebrate today. It’s easier said than done. But at least for today, I am celebrating all that is TODAY and cherishing the experiences that brought us here.
“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 NLT