Who Will Fill The Empty Seats At Your Table?

Bookends
Some people write about the best recipes for cooking a cat not because it makes for good linkbait but because they are lost in memories of the place where they found and lost their innocence and confidences.

When they think about the ghost you cannot see they wonder what happens when the house you grew up in, the one that has been the rock and the anchor of your family for five decades is prepared to be sold someone outside of the family.

****

Ma and Pa Steiner met with a realtor and are actively pursuing this move to sell my their house and I feel a bit like I got punched in the gut.

It is uncomfortable for a host of reasons not the least of which is I feel a bit foolish for being upset by this. It is four walls and a roof, nothing more than drywall and paint.

Ask my children and they’ll tell you I have told them many times that the people you are with make a house into a home.

People are what power moments and help us turn the ordinary into the extraordinary but no matter how many times I say these words in silence I am still unsettled by it.

It is four years since my last grandparent moved on to whatever comes next. There is An Empty Place At The Table that will never be filled in the same way because they are gone and all I have are the moments that we shared.

The baton has been passed and all of the generations have moved to the next step. It is part of the proverbial cycle of life and perfectly natural but it still feels a bit strange to me to realize that I am not the kid anymore.

I remember my grandparents telling me stories about their grandparents but I don’t think I really understood or appreciated what it was they were sharing.

I do now, but I didn’t then.

You can’t screw an old head on young shoulders.

Who Will Fill The Empty Seats At Your Table?

When I was born all of my grandparents had sold their homes and moved into apartments so I haven’t any memories from grandpa or grandma’s ‘house.’

It is different for my children. Don’t know that it is better or worse, just different.

They are no happier than I am about the coming sale and keep trying to come up with ways for me to or my siblings to buy the house.

But even though I am torn about the move I am grateful for all of the good memories that are tied up in it. Grateful for the gift of gratitude and eager to continue trying to help my children understand this is not something to be insouciant about.

We have more than many and that is invaluable.

My children don’t ask who will fill the empty seats at the table because their primary memories of family meals are punctuated by two sets of grandparents and a smattering of great-grandparents.

Sometimes it makes me sad they didn’t get to know them better, but then again they got to know some of them and that is more than many.

And now for a musical interlude:

All My Life Is a Circle

Midnight approaches on a week night and I am back at the computer pointing-and-clicking my way through cyberspace.

Got a pair of Bose headphones that I purchased because they were supposed to provide great sound and noise reduction but I am not convinced they are as good as advertised.

Thinking about the house and all of the work that is required to get it into shape to move.

The last time Ma & Pa moved was when they were twenty-somethings who hadn’t finished having children.

I tell them they need to give themselves more time to work on this because when you are in your seventies you can’t expect to have the same energy as when you were younger.

They tell me not to worry and mom says “I had four kids by 30 and I didn’t have a nanny. You have no idea how much energy you had. My friends used to look at you and ask if you ever stopped moving.”

I smile at mom and keep silent. There is no reason to belabor the point, they know how old they are and they know this will be harder than they think.

And then a fragment from the past floats to the surface and I hear my parents talking to each other about how much work is involved in moving my grandparents.

That must be around 20 years or so ago and now instead of them worrying about my grandparents I am worrying about my kids grandparents.

Where I Became A Writer/The Problem With Bloggers

It is Spring of ’74 and mom is pregnant with my baby sisters. She tells me there are two babies inside her and says I can help come up with names.

I tell her I don’t want any help from my middle sister because I am a big boy who can come up with good names. She tells me that I need to be a good big brother to my sister and to the babies, even if they aren’t the little brothers I want.

“Go tell your sister a story.”

It is not an uncommon request and it wasn’t unusual for me to do so.

In many ways my house is where I first became a writer and a person who loved to tell stories. But back then I never second guessed myself or worried about whether my tales were good enough to be told.

I shared them with whomever would listen and moved on.

There was no concern about whether it was good enough to get some recognition. No concern about whether it was good enough to promote or conversation about how to get hooked up with more deals.

It was just my stories and I.

Sometimes I need to remind myself about those days. You don’t become a better writer by promoting your work to everyone who will read or listen.

You become a better writer by writing.

I am going to miss my house.

7 Comments

  1. Tim Bonner July 23, 2015 at 12:34 am

    I lost my grandparents a long time ago. I remember many happy memories with them as a kid.

    I’m lucky in that my parents are young, mid 60s in fact. So my kids should have their grandparents on my side of the family for quite some time yet.

    Unfortunately my wife’s dad passed away a few years ago over in Ireland. We go and visit her Mom as often as we can. It’s an adventure for the kids to go over on the ferry, although it can be an interesting journey for all of us in rougher seas!

    My daughter has recently started thinking about mortality. From a 5 year-old’s perspective, I’m sure it’s very confusing. She’s very matter of fact about death. Perhaps that’s the best way to be, I don’t know?

    Anyway, I’ll take your advice about writing more to become a better writer. I need to get writing more again. As you know I plan to do some freelance writing so I need to hone my craft.

    I once said I’m not a writer; I’m a blogger. But I now think that’s the wrong way to look at things. Anyone who writes is a writer; there’s many different layers of experience and abilities within that. Not everyone will have the skills to succeed as one professionally but we can all try.

  2. Danny Brown July 22, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Hi Jack,

    Before I moved to Canada, I never really knew about the concept of the “kiddy table”. The first Christmas dinner I had here in 2006 showed me exactly what the kiddy table is – regardless of age, if you’re a child of a parent sitting at the main table, you sat at the kiddy table.

    This table is at a lower height level than the main table, and has a different tablecloth. Make no mistake, you are in no doubt who the “adults”
    are and who the “kids” are. Even though the youngest person at the kiddy table was 26….

    Now, the kiddy table doesn’t really exist, as the kids are actually kids now, and the parents are the ones who used to be the kids. The dinners we have (and attend) now are different from the ones we attended 10 years ago.
    People move on. Life moves on. We no longer want to separate that which is around us now, before it no longer is.

    It’s weird to look back at what we knew, and realize it’ll never be the same again. It’s also natural to feel discomfort at that, because that was our way of life, dammit, whether we actually agreed with it or not.

    That being said, it’s the past way of life for a reason (often because our own lives are no longer the most important). So we reminisce, let go, and learn anew.

    Doesn’t mean we have to like. Or forget. Or forgive, in some cases. But we move on anyway, because that’s just the to and fro of life.Here’s to the swaying.

    • Jack Steiner July 22, 2015 at 10:44 pm

      I always liked the kiddy table, more interesting and more fun or so I thought for years. Then I got ‘older’ and I had to move up so I just took the kiddy table attitude and brought it along with me.

      It is an interesting feeling, this movement to try and figure out how to make sure the kids are thriving while recognizing there is a time limit placed upon all of us.

      Meaning, that yeah the kids take priority but at some point we have to find ways to feed our souls too and trying to do that while making sure their needs are covered is a challenge.

      Well worth taking on, but certainly not simple.

  3. Janine Huldie July 22, 2015 at 3:24 am

    Aw, Jack as I am getting older, I too have become more pensive in my thinking towards the past with losing my grandparents, now my parents getting older and also myself aging on top of this. Trust me, I have been having some similar thoughts as you described and can only say that I think sadly still though it is what it is. Yet that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface or make it easier per say. Definitely thinking of you today and sending some virtual good thoughts your way, my friend.

    • Jack Steiner July 22, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      Hey Janine,

      Oh I know it is pretty common. Sometimes I roll my own eyes at myself because I remember when I was in my twenties and I heard the people pushing forty or older talking this way and I thought it sounded ridiculous, just campy.

      But I was wrong.

      Clearly I am biased, but I think it is a conversation/thought worth having.

  4. Julie Barrett July 22, 2015 at 3:01 am

    When we are children we have such an intense focus on the present that we can probably remember minute details about the house we grew up in, not to mention our thoughts, feelings, plans for our future, celebrations, and events. We leave our energetic imprints there. A family home radiates the character of its occupants, all of the people we love and bonded with since birth or whenever we moved in.

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