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Un réglage de la table —  A  table setting

When cooking in the kitchen at this time of the year, everything sounds and tastes better if you say it with a French accent.

When my kids were younger, they preferred the voice of the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show. Many of our holiday memories involve meal times—the sights, the aromas, the traditions, the company. I grew up in a big extended family in Brooklyn. We were 10 in the beginning, and as the family grew, more seats were added. We had a 4x8 sheet of plywood from the garage with a tablecloth over it, and eventually added a kids’ table. Unfortunately, as the years passed, so did many of our elder family members—Mom, Dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles and even my dear brother.  Although they have physically left the table, their memory, their smiles, their dumb jokes and their companionship will be missed and remain forever in our hearts.

The recent snow has made for a better view from the train into the woods that line my trip to the city. With the leaves fallen, I can see what has changed in the landscape. Some homes have added a new deck. A new boat was spotted.  Others have expanded their gardens. One home fell victim to a fire in the last year. I wondered what happened and hoped everyone was safe. Even though I have seen this view a thousand times—usually only as it wizzes by outside the train window—with the time change, the morning light makes everything more visible.

One morning I noticed something deep in the woods near the Otisville station: a small, gated graveyard. Over the next few days, as the view became more vivid, I came to assume it was a family cemetery. The wrought-iron fence was rusted now and was falling in a few places. It was well built, a sign that someone had put some expense and thought into the resting place that would surround the beloved family members. There were six visible tombstones. A few more may have fallen and could not be seen in the seconds as we flew by.

My curiosity was piqued now, and I began skipping my normal morning train nap, instead searching the internet while I still had a connection, to see if I could pinpoint the spot. Just as we neared the graveyard, there was a large oak tree, at least 300 years old by the size of the base. I am sure this tree would have some stories to tell. The headstones looked from a bygone era, tall and thin, and the inscriptions were well faded from what I could tell. On the top of the tallest was a large stone, a custom used to prevent the deceased from rising. In some strange way, I had become attached to this buried family. As the living zoomed by, I wondered what the family’s holiday traditions were and if there are any members who still carry on those traditions today.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, I thought of our loved ones who had passed, and a tradition our family had during those large gatherings. Grandma would always leave an empty table setting as a memory of those who would not be joining us. We would add their names to our before-meal prayer, and this usually brought up memories and stories, some quite comical. We were a boisterous bunch, and this was one of the few mealtime moments during which, when someone spoke, others reflected. It was sweet.

So as this holiday season carries on, I encourage others to add some sort of remembrance of those who could not be with us. Seats at the table are usually tight, so it can be a favorite dish or dessert, a story told, a memory shared. The point is not to forget them for, to be sure, they would not forget us. So make extra room for a table setting if you can—or if it sounds better in French, leave un réglage de la table this holiday season.

 

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