Thursday, April 28, 2016

Miriam's Table

When I was a kid, my father’s parents lived in a charming old neighborhood, not too far from us, in a charming white frame house, that unlike our boring brick ranch, was two story and was old and rich with character. Even then I knew that the walls and floors held stories that were long forgotten, but this house had been lived in, and had been, and was currently, loved. In my grandparent’s occupation of this wonderful space, there was a particular  happy place for me, and that was my grandmother’s kitchen.

In hind sight, it was tiny, but to me then it was perfectly sized. A back door led to the back yard where the wooden swing in the giant oak tree lulled me to quiet many an hour with my zen master grandfather giving an occasional push to “keep the cat from dying”. A window over the sink was always bright, overlooking a white double bowled porcelain sink. Flanking the window were quarter rounded open shelves that held clear bottles filled with colored water, that exploded with color that filled the room when the sunlight hit them directly. There was a dispenser for waxed paper, aluminum foil, and paper towels that hung on the wall by the back door that had a copper flap colored in a rich patina that hid the coils of wrap until needed. There was a door to the glassed in porch, where most of the time the grown ups hung out there, a step down from the kitchen height. Another door led to a weirdly placed hallway that led to the downstairs bedroom and bath, making it possible to discreetly  by pass the dining room on the other side of the wall. There was barely room for the refrigerator and oven but they were snugly there and supplied many a wonderful meal at my grandmother’s hand, and the refrigerator always, mysteriously held copious jars of green olives which I snacked on freely. I didn’t make the martini connection with the grown ups until much later. I just liked the brine and the crunch. Placed up against the plaster wall, in the tightest of spaces was my favorite part of the room though, it was Miriam’s table.

Miriam and Bibb, my grandparents lived what seemed to me to be an idealistic life in that white
frame house. Theirs was a life of ritual and pattern, at least on my visits spending weekends with them. My grandmother would rise and begin the breakfast thing, coffee brewing first and then the smell of bacon or sausages would rouse me from my slumber. My grandfather, Bibb, would rise and go the bathroom sink, where in his sleeveless t-shirt, would run the water until it got hot, and then shave, slowly and deliberately while I watched in fascination sitting on the edge of the tub behind him. After his shave and after wiping the remains of shaving cream and whatever blood marks from stray nicks from the razor off, he would put on a crisp white cotton shirt, long sleeve always, weather not a factor, put on a tie, and then we went to see what Miriam had cooked for us. We sat at her table as she served our plates.

It was the sound of her table that I remember so fondly and so well. The sound of fiesta ware plates placed upon the cool surface of that marble slab that was the top of her table, was so etched in my brain that I hear it now. We ate eggs, usually fried, sometimes scrambled, and there were always grits, grits that were slowly cooked, and Miriam always added milk to keep the constancy as she wanted and to make them creamier. Toast or biscuits with butter and honey rounded out the fare. I usually got a small glass of milk or juice and the sound of those upon that slab rang in a purity of the moment. It was my happy moment to be there, in my happiest of places.

Bibb would read the morning newspaper after he was done, still sipping warm coffee, and would rattle the pages as he turned them, their coarse pages also leaving their signature sounds as they moved across the edge of the marble. He sat at the end closest to the wall, near the door to the weird hallway, with the plaster wall to his left. I sat in the broad side of the table and watched miriam’s back as she worked to finish our meal and then once done, she sat to my right at the other end closest to the sink.

 The plaster wall was my first gallery and as I sat there I got to examine and reexamine my primitive first drawings, always of horses. Bibb would tape each drawing I did right up on that wall and make such a big fuss that I made sure another drawing came along soon. It was sitting at that gray marble table that made such an impact on my life, that I only recently have begun to understand the significance and influence.

Fast forward some decades later, many, and I began a search to find a material to redo the surfaces of my kitchen counter tops, which were woefully out of date and showing serious wear and tear. I began my prowl through show room after showroom of polished slabs of dazzling granites and crisp quartz samples. I had an idea of what I wanted and I was not seeing it anywhere. I told a salesman that I thought I wanted marble and was steered away from that preposterous idea because he said it was fragile and stainable, and would succumb to lemons or limes being cut on it. Over and over I heard this same mantra. They pointed me to quartz samples that they said would hold up forever and the samples looked like synthetic sparkly stuff designed to mimic the marble that I had in my head, but it just wasn’t getting it for me.

 Finally, a long time friend, Bil, who was newly hired at one of the stone dealerships listened to me remembering my grandmothers table and called me after I had left his shop one day and told me this. He said that he thought I should get the marble I wanted and forget the naysayers and their worry about blemishes. He said that if my memory of my grandmother’s table was that strong then perhaps my granddaughters will have similar memories of their grandmother’s table, if I went with the marble.  That was the deciding point then and there. We rode to Birmingham where there is a huge warehouse of stone slabs from all over the world, of exotic rocks and pieces of fossils kept in time in these layers of stone. I asked if they had any Carrera and tucked over in the far end of the building they did.

Carrera was the stone of Miriam’s table, and it was also the surface for most vanities, covers floors and walls in banks, and was widely used back in the day as a surface because there was a lot of it in Carrera, Italy and there still is. It's price reflected its abundance then, and still does. I picked out a slab and it was perfect. It looked just like Miriam’s breakfast table.

Last Monday the guys came and took out the twenty year old Formica and installed on the island, the center of my kitchen, a lovely white slab of cool marble. This beautiful piece of stone has graceful veins of gray that look like shadows dancing under a winter tree. I had chosen and marked the direction that I wanted them to flow before it was cut and now it lays in a swoon across the counter. It is organic and it is alive, and the first thing anyone does who sees it, is run their hands slows over its surface, feeling it like a breath. It is alive with a familiar sound as plates slide across it and glasses are rested on it. Once again I am back on the broad side of a beautiful stone where my cooktop is nestled. As I have cooked suppers this week, I have revisited Miriam’s table many times and enjoyed the memories. Last night the kids and grandkids came out for dinner and we gave it a good work out and breaking in. I don't know if they will remember, or even notice this white slab that takes me to my childhood in a blink, but I hope that in some way it will become part of their memories of time they spent out here at the farm, and of us, Uno and Mema.