Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Change of Scenery

It's a new month.

The first month of the Summer of Self-Love has ended and I'm off to new adventures. I'm starting the new month with a change of scenery. For just a moment, I miss my view out into the wide open sky, framed by verdant green trees. My new view is my mother's dining room. An unexpected work opportunity brought me here for the day, and I've decided to stay the week and see what perspective a change of scenery can offer this three months' exploration. 

I'm surrounded by the artifacts of my childhood. Our dining room was my favorite room in the house. It, really, was the heart of the home. It was, literally, its center and my mother has such a gift for creating beautiful spaces. The dining room table was my great-grandmother's. Oak. A durable hardwood. There was a matching buffet, beautiful art, built-in book shelves with the family library, a stereo, some record albums, a Persian rug, and a lamp table. Once there was an aquarium. I think I remember my brother tipping his chair backwards and falling into it, but that may have been a dream. I'll check it out with my mom the next time I talk to her.

She, actually, is not here. Neither are either of my brothers and their families. Everyone is away on vacation. It's an interesting irony that I've come to stay and they've all taken off. It gives me a kind of space I otherwise would not have had. Space to spread out in my mother's house. To take over this old, beloved table with my writing and books, and papers.  

I have so many memories of my childhood dining room. A true gathering space, it held many family celebrations. Birthday celebrations, baptismal and confirmation celebrations, Christmas Day brunches and dinners. Our family dinner every evening. It even held a dinner party my mother hosted for my friends and our dates before a Christmas dance during my sophomore year in high-school. 

The room I'm sitting in now is not that room. This room is the dining room that was once in my grandparents' home. Any family celebrations that did not happen at our house, happened here. Sunday dinner, Christmas Eve, Easter, more birthday celebrations. One of my favorite photos of my birthday was a party here. I was six, or maybe I was five, and my birthday cake had a ballerina on it in addition to the candles. There are two photos of me with that cake. One is me solo, and the second is with the whole family gathered around and standing behind me. Most of those people are no longer living, so it is a precious thing. The other favorite birthday party photo was at the other house, in the other dining room. I was 13 and everyone was laughing as I blew out the candles on my cake. Mom made this one in an angel food cake pan and put a vase of flowers in the hole in the center. I was sitting on my grandmother's lap. I'd love to know the story around how that happened. It's one of my fondest photographic memories - a memory that exists only in a photograph, that is. Interestingly, I remember the cake. I just don't remember the actual day or the party. 

I am grateful for photographs.

It's an interesting blend of circumstances here - my grandparents' dining room filled with my parents' furniture. Both the furniture and the room hold some of my favorite memories while growing up, and since. As I look up, I see the crystal chandelier that hung above my grandparents' dining table. The bulbs have red and white shades that are my mother's addition. Woven around the arms of the chandelier is a sculpture made by my daughter. It was purchased by my mother at my daughter's final exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she earned her B.F.A. The piece is called Rubric and resembles veins with the deep red blood of family connection pulsing through it. It was part of her exhibit themed around matrilineal connection. 

Another piece in the collection was called Mother, named for me. It's an archetypal piece, expressing the flow of the generations. I helped her with the fabrication. We spent many hours on many days in her studio hand stitching that piece. When she graduated, the whole family squeezed into that small space to experience the wonders of her imagination. In the museum below, the ordered results of her creative process were exhibited, but I always loved best standing in the mystical, magical worlds she would create in her studio. 

Living art.

I look to my left, through the foyer into the living room, to the photograph of my father that my mother keeps on a shelf with a vase of fresh flowers. My father died fourteen years ago, but he is very much alive in the quiet spaces of this home he shared with my mother. As are my grandparents and great-grandmother, who shared this home before my parents did. I think my grandparents moved here when my mother was in high school. I even lived here for a few years after college with my grandfather, a few years after my grandmother died. I had dinner parties for my friends on fine china here. I smile when I think of the stories my grandfather would share with me as we sat at the kitchen table eating Czech fruit dumplings or sardines. I remember how often I asked him to write his memoirs. And I find myself wishing he had, or wishing I'd pulled out a tape recorder to capture the stories. It probably would have broken the magic of the sharing, though. 

There's no longer a kitchen table in the kitchen. But I sit at this beautiful and ancient family table in a room that holds so many wonderful memories of gathering and celebration and I will spend the week in this space, gathering words and stories for new writing.  

The sound of the old air conditioner in the dining room window makes almost as much noise as the sound of the jackhammer below my kitchen window last week did, but somehow the sound is so familiar it is not jarring unless I think too much about it. I look around and remember so many things. Episodes that float on the river of my memory and sometimes eddy in a current that moves lazily around a rock there, lingering before moving on.  

The Summer of Self-Love is a daily writing practice created as a container for harnessing three months for thriving. The goal at the end is to host a dinner party. Sounds like an odd Hero's Journey, doesn't it? Most of them usually are. 

Art: Mother, 2014, Alyson Knodel - photographed from beneath 

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