The Kitchen: Sanctuary

My first remembrance of the importance of our kitchen table wasn’t about food, or even family gathering around it.  It was when the table became our sanctuary against the elements.
It was early morning, the radio was on, and, suddenly, our whole world began to rock.  The radio DJ yelled, “It’s an earthquake!”  My dad came running out the bedroom where he had been sleeping, and shoved my brother and me under the kitchen table.  Then he grabbed my mom and the two of them held onto each other and the kitchen door frame until it was all over.

The earthquake in Washington in 1965 was a 6.7, and our town was the epicenter.  But as a youngster, the most important part of the story was that we huddled together in that kitchen and my dad had shoved us under the table.  It was a table he had made, with inlaid parquet and a checkerboard in the middle.  It was solid, like him; he was a hero in my mind.

Nowadays, the kitchen table has again become my sanctuary but it is my grandmother’s.  My mother has dementia and my dad, in his grief and anger, has become someone I have to tiptoe around.  When I visit, I stay at my grandmother’s house.  She is over ninety, and my aunt has come to live with her.  Her daughter, my first cousin, takes care of Grandmother.  In the mornings, the four of us huddle around Grandmother’s small kitchen table.  We tell family stories while we eat breakfast, share the news, and support each other through the emotional and physical changes that have come as we have gotten older.
Every day while I am there, after breakfast, I visit my parents.  My dad has become frail from being over stressed and overworked as a caregiver, yet he still believes he is strong and able to do everything without help.  It has been a difficult time for all of us, my parents, my brother, and me.  It has been a time of learning about our own strengths.  And I have needed a support system to hold me while I watch my dad, my hero, fight with his own frailties.
So, in the mornings, I meet with my aunt, my cousin, and my grandmother at the table.  We talk about how we are handling our challenges.  We draw strength from each other.  We laugh together, and I am grateful for this opportunity to get to know women in the family I have never known well before.  I am grateful for the table which shelters us and brings us close, the kitchen table that has become my new sanctuary against the elements.

Denise Benshoof

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