Setting My Daughter’s Holiday Table

My daughter, son-in-law, and two young grandsons had only recently settled into a new home when I arrived for Thanksgiving 2014. As preparations for the holiday feast were drawing to a close and the familiar aromas of roast turkey and pumpkin pie wafted in the air, she asked me if I would mind setting the table.

Instantly, my thoughts flashed back to her growing-up years. At that time in our lives, I was the chief cook for Thanksgiving and she and her brother were the ones who set the table. An unexpected lump formed in my throat. My eyes misted over but I whisked myself into the dining room before she could notice, calling back over my shoulder that I’d love to do the honors.

“The silverware you gave me when you downsized from the house to an apartment is in the cabinet under the sideboard,” she said. “So is your aunt’s china, the green design that will look pretty with the green tablecloth and orange candles.”

When I pulled open the drawers under the sideboard, I realized that my six-year-old grandson was beside me. His little brother, 17-months younger and full of beans, dashed past us shouting that he needed to help Daddy start putting up the Christmas lights outside. But the older boy, also energy-packed yet somehow more soulful, whispered, “Can I stay and do this with you, Nana?” I nodded, still a little choked with nostalgia. The inescapable realization that the generational roles were turning washed over me.

My grandson and I began by fitting all the pieces of silverware into their proper slots in the chest. They had ended up in a jumble as a result of the move and he wanted to see them looking orderly. I smiled. His mother had always insisted on arranging the pieces perfectly before she selected the ones to use. Somehow, that memory began to comfort me.

Before long we were putting the dishes and silverware on the table and I was explaining about the correct placement of the big fork and the little fork. My grandson had already learned that forks go to the left of the plates but he was confused about the salad forks and the dinner forks. His mother used to ask for a refresher on this issue when she was little and she even referred to the lesson in a sweet essay she wrote called “How to Scoop Soup” about all the life skills and good manners she had learned from me. She gave the essay to me on her wedding day, bound into a folder with other loving essays about being my daughter. (Yes, I got a really good girl! She came that way. I really can’t take the credit.)

Needless to say, I treasure her writings still. Yet while my grandson and I proceeded with the task of setting the holiday table, I knew that I wouldn’t need an essay to remember the event. It would be tucked away in my mental treasury of life’s magic moments. I no longer felt the heart tug of years slipping by too quickly. The present was suddenly infinitely precious and precisely where I was glad to be.

“The table is beautiful!” my grandson pronounced upon putting the final fork where it belonged and stepping back to survey our handiwork. Then he rushed into the kitchen saying, “Mommy, I learned from Nana all about the big fork and the little fork!”

I followed him just in time to see her wiping happy tears from her eyes.

Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief of ThirdAge.com.

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