Nearly a hundred years ago, just seven blocks from this old house — with its crumbling front porch and its three growing daughters — lived a family of immigrants in the old Greek neighborhood.
Boys played loud, kicked cans and made scooters from fruit crates. Parents spoke in the language of home and told stories with olive hands.
Yaya raised her four boys, including my grandfather, Papou, here. She laughed and cooked and baked in the apron she wore over her belly, under her ample bosom. Rounded lace collar under chin, bun pulling back loose brown hair.
During the war, Yaya’s boys traveled across seas, proudly fighting for their country in blues and tans. The family was deeply patriotic, and Yaya hung American flags in windows, awaiting their return.
She felt the honor and missing deep and forever welcomed home with hugs, homemade food, touches of cheeks and love tinged incense.
Several generations ago, this table sat in Yaya’s home. And before that, it made its home in another kind of house. A house of ill repute.
It’s hard to know how the transfer happened. Perhaps the table, creaky chairs and matching dresser moved from a brothel to live among our family as payment for barber shop services provided by my great-grandfather.
We really have no idea.
But today I sit at the marked and dinged oval of our everyday. The table I’ve always known — the one that lived in the dining rooms of my childhood, held games of Parcheesi and Uno, Mama’s tuna curry casserole and homemade bread braided and shining, topped with poppy seeds.
I run my hand across stories told in grain and knot holes.
For this table is the honey and chestnut-tinged ground where family joins hands to pray and shares the day’s cherries and pits. It’s where we talk about spelling tests and friendship and how we tried to give love away.
It’s the ground of roasted chicken and burritos, potatoes and green salad. It’s the wood dotted by caked oatmeal and biscuit crumbs, dribbles of plain yogurt.
It’s where we live out traditions and argue over last pieces, look at each other with tired eyes and arrange party food. It’s the place where we complete school projects and break into song. It’s where our hearts and bellies say, I belong.
Many years ago, Yaya sat around the table with the ladies from church, eating special cookies and sipping ouzo. Many years ago, Yaya walked from kitchen to table and laid out arms filled with spanakopita and dolmathes.
Then, as now I suppose, the surface peppered with pen marks and scuffs, water rings and heat marks.
We are holding hands across these years, Yaya and me, the sound of the pedestal creaking with the weight of stories and of young people reaching across for more.
The gorgeous and soulful writer, Amber at The Runamuck, is leading an exploration of voice in writing, in which we use concrete words to express the abstract. This week’s began with the prompt “THE TABLE.”
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Oh my gosh! Ashley, girl, this is fabulous!
There is not one phrase wasted or assigned to relay only one layer of meaning. The teacher me responds, “Excellent.” The reader/friend me says, “Thank you for this glimpse into your heritage and the posterity that will continue to be such lovers of people and blessing in the earth.”
Beautiful rendering. This is really, really GOOD!
Thank you, Kim! Teacher-you and friend-you both gave me a boost of loving encouragement today. And your blessing is my prayer: that we would be “such lovers of people and blessing in the earth.” Yes.
This is tremendous, traveling through your family history, seeing hearing tasting all the flavors of the women in your family lineage. You tell beautiful stories beautifully and then you put your Ashley voice on as gravy. You are woven in every fiber of your storytelling. I just loved this prompt but especially loved how this was both very personal to your family history and sort of “everywomen” because its so relatable as a mom and woman. Thanks for using and sharing your gift of writing with us. We are better for it.
Thank you for sharing your words and presence here, my friend. It is a gift to connect in our stories and places of knowing with one another. I was amazed, in reading your post, how similar are so many of our experiences around the table. How unique each family, but how many overlaps in these tales. xoxo
I love hearing how your table has been passed down for generations…beautiful story & beautifully written! Was this on your Mom’s side? Where was this old Greek neighborhood? I love history!!!
Thank you, Becca! This was on my mom’s side. Actually, my mom’s stepdad, who was really her dad. So, though there’s no blood relationship between Yaya and me, the strands of her love that carried through my grandfather to my mom and to us — run deep. The old Greek neighborhood was right around Alberta, in the King neighborhood. My Papou and his family actually lived on 7th & Alberta. We had no idea when we moved here. Another interesting tidbit: right after WWII, one of my grandfather’s brothers lived in the apartment complex where Mike and I lived right after we got married…our first place!
Ashley, I so loved reading this! Such rich and delicious storytelling! I love how you know Yaya without ever having been held by her. I love how, miraculously, you live so close to where she and her family once sat around this same table. I love how you’ve evoked her presence and especially how you’ve shown how little distinction there is once family sits down at the gathering place. So very beautiful Ashley. Thank you! (Yaya would have been humbled, but tickled. :) ) love, mama
Thank you, Mama! I love how I know Yaya, too — through you and Papou and Grandma. I’m thankful for this gift, though I wish I could have known her in person. I agree…it is amazing how close we live to where she once did and how she lives still in this house.
Ashley, this is rich storytelling, INDEED. You voice drew me in and I was transported there, nearly 100 years ago, and here, where you are, and some of the spaces in between. I love how something ordinary like a piece of furniture passed down can become a timeless treasure, a way of locking hands with precious ones from the past and sharing bits of life. This made me wish to sit down at the table with you and share stories and special cookies and tea…
I would SO love that, Amber! Thank you for your kind words, friend. Isn’t it amazing how the ordinary things can be anything but?
Beautifully told sis. I share so many memories at this table with you. Thank you for taking me back to those times and making me feel like I was sitting there with yaya herself.
Thank you, Sis. Wish you were sitting with me right now.
A simple table, given life by you, in your inimitable way. It pleases me to know that your experiences around this table will add to its charming history and will be carried forward by those wonderful girls.
Thank you, Papa. I love what you say about these memories going forward through the lives of our girls. Many more moments to come, aren’t there? :-)
Endearing Ashley :-)
So thankful for your presence around the table of this place, Deb.
Ashley, I get goosebumps and little shivers all over every time I read your words. I love how deeply & poetically you see and feel…my insides perk up with recognition each time I step into this sacred space with you.
So much of what you wrote here reached out & grabbed hold, especially this: “young people reaching across for more.” These words just stir something…
Thank you for filling me this afternoon.
Wow, Julia. What a gift to read your response to my words and to know so many common heart experiences as we join in each others’ spaces. You are a gift here…and everywhere. Bless you.
Wow. That last line brought tears. Oh yes, it did.
Thankful for the tears of shared knowing, friend.