I grew up with my divorced mother in my grandmother’s 200 year old New England farm house. The house had only been previously inhabited by multiple generations of one other family and was still assembled with wooden pegs when my grandparents bought it in the 1930s for their expanding family.
Elena Louisa Vecchione, or Helen, was true north for our large extended Italian- American family. No one would have ever mistakenly called her a “sweet little old lady” but she loved me fiercely and her family came first. Like most Italian grandmothers, she showed her love with food. She kept a ancient refrigerator in the garage stocked full of homemade baked goods “just in case” someone stopped by. Fresh brewed coffee was always just moments away and she instilled in my cousins and I the strong belief that no one should ever feel unwelcome in our homes–unless they were selling something we didn’t want to buy–and that no one should ever leave hungry.
The hub of my childhood home was the oddly shaped kitchen with its modest round table with it’s seemingly endless supply of flannel backed vinyl tablecloths. Each one would take its turn, in service day in and day out until it cracked with age and use to be replaced with another in a different pattern. Every night my mother would wash the dishes while I dried and like clockwork she would ask me if I wanted to wipe the table down for her. Smartass that I was, every night I would reply “No, I don’t want to wipe down the table, but I will.” I would then carefully lay out the items my mother—who did not wake gracefully– would need for her customary weekday breakfast of coffee with sugar and Coffee Mate and a bowl of dry Rice Crispies because milk made them “too loud” in the morning.
The kitchen table was the place that my grandmother and her four daughters would gather and talk and laugh and tell old family stories over countless cups of Maxwell House drip brewed in a Mr. Coffee machine. It is where we had holiday dinners, a card table shoved awkwardly against it for the overflow, transformed with linen tablecloths and my mother’s lilac china, now displayed in place of honor in my own home. That table is where I did my homework, talked on our only telephone with its cord wrapped around my finger, learned about life and love, and ruminated on full circles when I later found myself sitting there with my-now adult cousins drinking coffee while our children ran around the big house playing together as we had.
The kitchen table was normally circled by four chairs. Purchased in the 1970s, they were tall backed wrought iron affairs with padded round seats covered in red embossed faux leather that would stick to our bare legs in the summer heat. The pattern from the seats would remain visible on my pale thighs for hours after I got up. Although four chairs seemed perfect for the small table, it would expand magically when my aunts or company stopped by. My grandmother would say to us, “There is always room for one more at a round table.”
I think of my grandmother now as I look at all of the amazing writers whose work is published on Brave and Reckless. Brave and Reckless has gradually and unconsciously become my version of my grandmother’s kitchen table, minus the vinyl tablecloth. Everyone is welcome here—well, at least everyone who isn’t selling something I don’t want. I wish I could hand you a cup of coffee- I promise that Maxwell House has NEVER been served in my house- and a plate of my grandmother’s homemade cookies while we get acquainted. My cousins would tell you to try the frosted anisette cookies but I am a fan of the chocolate rum and the Struffoli myself. There were no strangers in my grandmother’s kitchen—just friends we hadn’t gotten to know well yet.
You are welcome here.
© 2017 Christine Elizabeth Ray – All rights Reserved