Thank you for this farmhouse table, bought sixteen years ago from Bradlees department store next to the supermarket in Orleans, Massachusetts. We were about to host Thanksgiving in our rented house in Provincetown. So we bought groceries and this solid wood table, which was cheap but has lasted. Cracked down the middle, it still holds.
On the first Thanksgiving of this table, we ate within view of the Pilgrim’s Monument, a stone tower marking the place where the pilgrims stopped for water before anchoring. The monument has a red light near the top, a red Cyclops eye at night, and oldest child called it the Monitor. She was three—this might have been a mispronunciation, or a recognition that the tower, far taller than the scrunched-together assemblage of weathered houses below, seemed to watch over the town.
Oldest child said two memorable things in the first year of this table. Husband gets very expressive at formal meals, as if he can’t quite stand to be sitting there, and as he winged back his hand to let fly a napkin, oldest child said, “Watch out, Mom, here comes some linen!” We loved that she used the word linen. How civilized. Maybe we could live in France someday after all.
The second thing she said at our Thanksgiving meal. My mother was visiting from Washington, and my sister from Los Angeles. My sister’s beloved little dog had just died, after he failed to wake up after having surgery. Oldest child could not understand how this had happened. She had met the dog in Los Angeles and they followed each other all around. “What did the doctor say?” she asked my sister. Her aunt patiently explained that the doctor had said sometimes this happens, the dog was too sick and too weak to survive the surgery and anesthesia. My mother and I had given the dog to my sister as a fourteenth birthday present, and we felt mournful. We all nodded gravely, explaining death to a dear little child with angelic curly hair. We passed the stuffing, we passed the gravy. How good it was to be together, sunlight pouring down upon us through the plastic skylight. Oldest child put down her fork. “What did the doctor say?” “Well,” my sister started for the second time. The dog’s death was not what she preferred to dwell on over Thanksgiving dinner. She and I and my mother exchanged a look, and my sister explained it all again, how the dog had become sick, and the doctor said surgery was necessary, and so on. Oldest child listened carefully, and then ate more turkey, sitting in her plastic booster chair. She stared penetratingly at my sister. “Aunt C,” she said, “what did the doctor say?” By the fourth or fifth time of this, we grownups were crying openly, hunched over laughing. We threw our napkins on the table in defeat. Oldest child laughed, too, mystified, shaking her curls.
Why am I writing to X about this? I’ll let Spalding Gray ask the question, as he did in July 2001 in his journals: “But who do I pray to, to the QUARKS and the atoms, to the idea of VIBRATING strings?”