Marilyn Gardner Woods
My dining room. Inspired by Billy Collins, Poet Laureate.
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
It’s a small quaint room, my dining room, where meals are rarely eaten.
The feast is on the wall, a gallery of art.
A peony flower floats in a cloudless sky...
an aged face emanates wisdom...
a quintet of children run joyously near the ocean.
A chandelier festooned with eighty-four small glass orbs illuminates the cozy chamber with disco-like brilliance after dark. Floor to window glass-fronted cabinets, handcrafted without nails before my birth, houses treasures—framed sepia photographs, small ivory sculptures, and silver trays. And books.
The vintage Queen Anne table, with its cabriolet style legs punctuates the room diagonally. I run the palm of my hand over its nicks and scars; each adds a bit of character to its’ worn walnut surface.
Most often I am alone in this room. Meals rarely eaten here and yet I am filled up in this quiet space.
At this moment, I’m not alone here. For just a moment I let myself wander to past gatherings around this table.
They are all in this room, my grandparents.
In the china cabinet with its graceful curved glass doors, nearly a century old, I look at pieces that belonged to my grandmothers. Edwina’s cut glass collection with its intricately cut patterns and prisms—candy dishes, candlesticks, and vases which glisten and create sparkle-light designs on the walls when the sun shines through the windows.
Ethyl Maude, mom’s mother, loved flowers. Her bread and butter plates, hand-painted with crimson roses and gilded with gold, rest on the glass shelf. A silver butter knife, nearby.
The leather-bound books belonged to my maternal grandfather, Charles Chester, at one-time a bookstore proprietor. Collecting, reading and quoting from books like those standing there on a shelf in the cabinet, Evangeline, Hiawatha, and The Odyssey of Homer, his passion.
A small mirror, a nod to my dapper maternal grandfather, he of the pin-striped suit, white oxfords and straw bowler, hangs around the corner from my dining room, near the front door. Mom’s dad encouraged a last-minute appearance check in the mirror before leaving the house.
On the wall, across the room from the cabinet, amidst the paintings, hangs a solitary possession of my favorite grandparent. I shouldn’t say that, should I?
Guy Gardner, my dad's dad, was a railroad guy, the Atchison, Topeka and, and Santa Fe originating in Kansas where my father was born. Grandfather’s shaving mirror, three small circles hinged and hanging from a chain joined by a circle, reflects the colors of the art in my room and the lush green from the trees outside the French doors.
As a little girl, I stood mesmerized watching not one, not two, but three images of my lovable, laughing grandfather foamed up with cream—Burma-Shave or Barbasol, I can’t remember which—over a pedestal sink. I do vividly recall the straight razor and his faces in the triple shaving mirror, beveled, and framed in quarter sawn oak. Triple memories still.
None of my grandparents came to this dining room. Neither did my parents. Nor my husband. Just me.
I did go to the grandparents dining rooms, both in Denver, often. I can see them there.
The tall, lean, and witty father of my father, tucking his white napkin into his shirt collar, bib style as he sat at the end of the table looking out the window of the Arts and Craft bungalow, his home in the Congress Park section of Denver. A Roseville serving bowl, patterned with lavender and butter yellow morning glories, sat in the center of the dining room table, filled with bunches of grapes, always. It’s in my dining room now, without grapes. Guy’s slender wife, Edwina or Winnie as we snickered behind her back, was quick with a strict warning to us and to him, “Take the entire bunch of grapes. Do not leave the exposed stem.” Winnie, also lean and lank, kept cookies in her cabinet, ours for the taking. Not so strict.
My brother and I fought over the sterling silver dinner knife with the hollow handle in the modest apartment dining room with a view of the Rocky Mountains where my maternal grandparents were at home. The joy for the victor was shaking the knife like a rattle; inside a ballbearing of some sort responsible for the jangling noise in my grandparents’ quiet space. Every time we giggled as if we’d uncovered a sunken treasure. Usually, after the fourth or fifth shaking, a stern-faced Ethyl stopped the nonsense and served our plates—meat, potatoes and most often, a well-cooked helping of canned green peas. Ice cream always for dessert at their house; my grandfather taught us to stir and stir and stir until the treat was the consistency of pudding. “Much better for slurping,” he whispered with a wink when she was out of the room.
So many memories in my dining room, a room with polished hardwood floors and a candle scented with bergamot, lemon, and jasmine.
They are all with me in this room where meals are seldom served.
Occasionally, it is not my grandparents’ presence I feel in this intimate salon-style room; instead my grandchildren gather. Silly, sometimes serious, and lively exchanges among cousins. It’s the grandmother’s job to keep the cousins connected, I believe. We congregate around the table which belonged to another grandmother at the turn of a century. We tell stories. We laugh. Sometimes we cry. Food might appear on the dining table; not the meat and potatoes of my grandparents. Certainly not on silver platters. Not really even meals, just food of convenience.
Pizza. Or maybe pasta or tacos.
Joy is served in my dining room when Maddie, Bayley, Sophie, Carly, Calvin, Chesapeake and Cash coming calling.
To them, I am the only grandmother who remains. Sometimes I feel great responsibility to leave lasting impressions like those that surround me in my dining room.
But I don’t serve meat and potatoes.
I love this reflection of your family. There was no China, silver, or Roseville bowl with grapes. The only resemblance to my childhood were the canned peas. (Which I never cared for but wasn’t allowed to leave the table till all were consumed) I do recall always being thankful for family at Thanksgiving .... and the pumpkin and chocolate pies. ❤️AM
Nice , Im with Grandma that does want grape stems left hanging.
Just 6 for dinner , its hard to only do one family but it gets too tense otherwise.
loved the picture of all 7, so cute the little guy Cash?
Reading Obama on Audible. His voice is soothing , might be too late. 😴MP
This was beautiful. We all have ”stuff” from those we love and who’ve gone before us. You have chronicled your favorite things for your grandkids and future generations to follow. An idea I may just copy. ❤️Sue
I have so much to be thankful for, especially my friends. Hope you are safe and well. RB in Dallas
So interesting. i just finished washing the cut glass cranberry server. Judy in Houston
Thanks Marilyn! Reading this felt like an invitation to spend time with you in your dining room! Your grandchildren are beautiful! Great to get a photo of all of them together! Happy Thanksgiving! PKP
Thanks for your essay.
I expect you will have quality time with local family on Thanksgiving.
My California family have cancelled the traditional large gathering
but I will go to my stepson and DIL in Encinitas. Wouldnt mind a walk on the beach.
As it is , my Mother’s funeral will be this Thursday.
As my sister talked about the arrangement and participants yesterday , I wish I could be there especially for the “Graveøl” - after party , to trade stories with family and old friends. To reconnect with the living for our future together while sharing and recalling the shared past.
My71 year old cousin Jens told a story this summer: At my mother’s 95 year birthday she held a charming speech at a fancy dinner. Afterwards my cousin complemented my mother and said he wished to be so wellspoken when he turned 95. My mother answered : “ Then I want to be there too”
Be well and keep writing. Bess
Oh, Woodsy, this is once again so lovely. I am enamored with this recollection and your writing just sings across the page. Billy Would be proud of you! I have most of his books if you ever missed any of them. He's so inspirational. As are you, my friend! CJ
What an accomplishment to go back in time to recover treasured memories - to waken up not only how things looked in that far corner of our past but what we felt when we saw them. There is so much love in those recollections. Thank you for letting me a passenger in you trip across time.RS