28 February 2012

Her Strength, Her Endurance

The "state tree" in Wisconsin is the Sugar Maple.  It was decided by an election in 1893, when the schoolchildren of that fair land took a vote.  In 1948, at the state's centennial, students voted and the Sugar Maple won again.

Don't mess with the Sugar Maple.  It commands attention.

The small table with folding leaves that sat by the window of my grandma's kitchen, looking out upon a crabapple tree with two bird feeders--one for finches and one for the larger creatures like robins, jays and grackles ('damn grackles')--that small table, warm, rich, luminescent, deep maple brown, was the closest we had to an oracle in our family.  It was a table that virtually rose up to meet you, greet you, drew you in like the handshake of a country doctor:  strong, present, kind, assuring.

Enduring.  Classically, or so we believed, it was perpetually ready:  for a warm meal, warm drink; light meal, cool drink; game of cards; update on life; to write a letter or pay a bill.  To do nothing.  T stare out at the birds and do nothing.  Salt and pepper shaker.  Glass jar filled with lemon drops.  On occasion, a small cactus.

It was an efficient table.

When I turned eighteen, my mom and grandmother took a drive in the country and found a table at a garage sale.  It was covered, hideously, in several layers of paint, which they removed--with elbow grease--in short order.  After a series of encounters focused on stripping the wood, and sanding, finishing and re-finishing, I was presented with a desk for college.  "Beautiful," I said, appreciatively.  "Maple," my grandma said, obviously.   And today--30 years later--it sits in my office in Brooklyn.

My grandma's kitchen table now sits in my mom's apartment in Milwaukee, having been apportioned to her after grandma died some time ago.  She keeps there her sewing machine, her knitting gear, and other exemplars of her restless productivity, her birds, as it were, her trees in bloom out the window.

"I couldn't sleep the other night and I wanted to sit at the table and talk to my mother!" said my mother to me last night on the phone.  Damn!  Did I hear that!

"The Maple Oracle," I deadpanned.

"Yes," said she.

"What did you want to hear?"  I asked.

"Her strength, her endurance."


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