TELL US ABOUT A SCAR ON YOUR BODY by mia hinkle

What is a scar? Marcie Lynn McClure says, “Scars are but evidence of life. Evidence of choices to be learned from…evidence of wounds…wounds inflicted of mistakes…wounds we choose to allow the healing of. We likewise choose to see them, that we may not make the same mistakes again.”

Or paraphrased for purposes of this essay: Stories about scars are evidence of life. Evidence of choices to be learned from…evidence of wounds…wounds inflicted by mistakes…wounds we barely survive. We choose to tell those stories over and over and show off those scars, so we may not make the same mistakes again – hopefully.

I have only two scars on my body and both stories are pretty boring. One is from my hysterectomy incision; I was 35 and it was perhaps, physically, the best day of my womany life. The other is from a rusty barbed wire fence when I was 13 years old. I was camping out wearing sandals at a slumber party, and in the middle of the night I climbed over a barbed wire fence and one of those little sharp barbs stabbed into arch of my foot. As I swung my free leg over the top wire, my anchored foot pivoted against the barb and it sliced into my arch’s tender flesh. Deep enough and long enough for 14 stitches. The town doctor came straight from his bed and met us at his office in the wee hours of the morning. He was wearing pajamas. It was weird.

Anyway, I survived both slices, no worse for the wear, and have the scars to prove it. So while the stories of my scars are not very dramatic, I will share three true stories that could have easily ended my life. Each one should have left me with scars, but they didn’t. And they all involve horseplay.

In my twenties I owned a few horses and rode western-style showing them in horse shows in timed events like barrel racing and pole-bending. One balmy summer evening, I was practicing poles with my quick little Arabian mare whose registered name was Lucky Lola. Looking back, I should have quit while I was ahead. The best pole benders know there is usually only one good run for a horse and rider on any given day.

Normally we would glide between those poles, switching leads like a Lipizzaner; barely a breath from each one, floating on the wind. But today, the sun was going down and it had been a long day. Lola was getting tired. I was pressing my luck. We were both loosing focus. As if to let me know she was done for the day, her here-to-for nimble weaving between the 6 poles just 21 feet apart, turned into a straight line race that slammed my knees against each of those poles at a break-neck speed.

Like I said, I should have quit while I was ahead. Instead, in a flash of pain and frustration, I planted my spur into her left shoulder and yanked the reins to the right to let her know I didn’t want her to hit another pole with my kneecap. Well, I must have pulled those reins way too far and down we went! I had pulled her head right out from under her, just like in the TV westerns when the rider gets an arrow in his thigh. Consequently, she went into a forward roll at a full gallop. Needless to say I was not ready for that, and as she went down, I flew from the saddle right into her path, breaking our collective fall with the crown of my head on the hard packed dirt. I held on to the reins and she rolled right over me – all 900 pounds of her. I don’t know how long I lay there as she stood over me. The next thing I remember I was leading her around and around the edge of the arena trying to cool her down. Later that night, I ended up in the emergency room with a concussion. Not a scratch on me. No broken neck, as could have very easily been the case. And no scar. But what a story.

Mistake to avoid in the future: Quit while you’re ahead. Never think you can man-handle a beast nine times your size at the end of a long day and escape unscathed.

Another time, I was helping my horse trainer boyfriend with a thoroughbred that was really fast but had a problem with the starting gate. He was scared to death of that tiny space and would not get in. So the trainer got the bright idea to take both my horse, Lucky Lola, and this new one he was training to the track during off hours, thinking my little Arabian would have a calming effect on this spooky race horse.

Me: Are you sure this will work?
Trainer: Of course it will, trust me.

The thoroughbred had been soured at the track in his previous life, so when he stepped out of the trailer at the race track, his entire countenance ratcheted up a few notches. Ears straight forward … nostrils flaring … fighting the lead rope, he knew where he was and didn’t like it one bit. We trotted around for a while to get the lay of the land and eventually it turned out my seasoned little mare had a calming influence on that flighty thoroughbred after all.

We approached the back side of the starting gate. I remember thinking that I agreed with the race horse; it looked really tiny.

Me: “Are you sure this is a good idea? It looks a little dangerous.”
Trainer: “No it will be fine, just ease her on in there. You go first.”

Lola had never seen anything like it, so, no reason to be frightened she walked right inside the gate with me on her back. The thoroughbred saw Lola walk in unafraid and so he did the same. For an instant, there they both stood as if they were in their stalls waiting for supper. But when the gate shut behind us with a loud CLANK, Lola began to freak out, snorting and pawing the ground beneath us. I swear she was trying to get down and crawl out on her knees. She became more and more agitated – again banging my knees against the teensy metal cage. Note to self: starting gates are not made for people in western saddles.

Finally the bell rang and the front gates flew open. My little grey mare shot out like a watermelon seed on the Fourth of July on to the race track and barreled around the curve like she thought she was Secretariat.

Without me.

I’m not sure how to describe this except with the imagery made famous by Saturday morning cartoon characters. You know the ones … where Wiley Coyote hangs in midair for several seconds looking terrified before he plummets to the bottom of the canyon to his violent demise.

There I hung in midair … my trusty steed becoming smaller and smaller as she barreled around the track … until suddenly and with great impact, my tailbone slammed onto the track with a dull thud and I slid to a stop on my back in a cloud of dust. The mix of sand and clay found its way into every crease and crevice of my 20something year old body. When my head stopped spinning, my ears were ringing and I could taste blood and dirt. There was sand in my boots. There was sand in my bra. There was sand in my underpants and where the sun don’t shine. I feel like I may have been taller before that day … like my spine was compressed just a little with the impact.

When I regained my bearings, I looked around to see that goofy thoroughbred just standing inside the starting gate looking around. The trainer was encouraging him with whip and spurs to spring forth, but I think that race horse was just too stunned at the sight of greased lightning resembling a little grey Arabian mare disappearing down the track, and her rider, the big eyed Wiley Coyote suspended in midair before crashing to the ground, little birds circling her blonde head with their maniacal chirping. I could have easily been paralyzed. But again, not a scratch, not a scar, but what a story.

Mistake to avoid: Always hold on tight when faced with something new. And don’t put your blind trust in someone when you have the slightest inkling to the contrary.

My third near death experience happened in the dead of winter. Yes, it was Minnesota, but we were die-hards and rode horseback summer and winter just the same. We had purchased a pure bred Arabian stud colt as a yearling and counted the days until he turned two and we could begin to break him for riding. He was high strung and gorgeous, dark dapple grey with striking confirmation. Finally, in late winter he was old enough to ride. I was lighter so I got the honors. It was a crisp and cold Saturday afternoon. I put the saddle on him inside the barn and cinched it up tight. I knew better, but I was in a hurry and my fingers were cold. Horsemanship 101 or just plain common sense teaches you to tighten the cinch a little at a time, walking the horse around a little bit between each tightening. Remember this is a brand new sensation for a young horse, and it’s best to take it easy the first time if you want to have a second.

Anyway, I cinched up that saddle as tight as I could and led him outside. I remember hearing the hard packed snow squeak beneath his hoofs, but his steps were halting and stiff. I hadn’t realized that he had filled his lungs with air and was holding his breath like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum. It really wasn’t working for him to walk and hold his breath at the same time. I felt like I was dragging him with each step.

In his panic when he finally took a breath, he seemed to just explode — rearing up on his hind legs and throwing his head from side to side. I was at the end of the lead rope and knew I could not let go of this young stallion. A stud loose on a horse farm will cause mayhem with a capital M.

We were just a few steps outside the barn door when he reared up and I flew thru the air like a rag doll at the end of the lead rope. When I landed in a snowdrift on my back, his two front hooves landed firmly on my sternum. He stood there stiff legged for what seemed like forever; his full weight planted just below my throat. I was holding on so tight, I could feel his hot breath on my face.

I was saved that day by the grace of God and cold weather. I had on two sweatshirts, a down vest, a down jacket, and insulated coveralls. Providence must have known all those layers weren’t quite enough to save me from harm, so I mysteriously landed in a foot of freshly fallen snow, and not on the icy driveway just a few feet away.

Mistake to avoid: Always use patience and common sense when dealing with the young and inexperienced. Rushing through the basics can produce bad results. And never underestimate cold weather and the grace of God to save you when you screw up.

Stories about scars are evidence of life. Evidence of choices to be learned from…evidence of wounds…wounds inflicted by mistakes…wounds we sometimes miraculously escape. We choose to share those stories over and over, and show off those scars, hopefully avoiding those same mistakes in the future.

THE LITTLEST VALENTINE by mia hinkle

You came sneaking into my world entirely unexpected
You took me by surprise, awakening me to emotions brand new and as old as time
You brought with you so many things to teach me about you, about the world we live in … about me

Sounds like true love, right?

You slipped into my heart and nestled there with complete comfort
You altered my perspective, improved my view
You came bounding into my day planner and crashing into my checkbook with your sweet demands

Sounds just like true love, I say!

You slid down that heavenly gumball shoot
Totally arbitrarily and completely on purpose
And plopped down right smack dab into the middle of my family

And now …
When you cry, we come running
When you giggle, we giggle more
When your eyes sparkle, we melt

When you are frightened, we scoop you up and hold you near
When you are hungry, we stop in our tracks to hold your bottle
When you are sick, we stay up all night soothing your brow

What are socks to you, are thumb-warmers to us
What is play time to you, is the middle of the night to us
And what is ordinary to you, is amazing to us

When we hold you we pray
That God will keep you in the palm of his hand
That you will grow strong into a soldier of God

When we hold you we pray
That when troubles come your way
We can be your soft place to land

We hadn’t planned it for this time
We hadn’t imagined in it this way
But here you are anyway

Precisely as God intended
No accidents
No coincidence

Just exactly as Destiny with a capital “D”
And Providence with a capital “P”
Ordained your arrival since the dawn of time

So here you are and here is my heart
My littlest Valentine
On your first Valentine’s Day

Love you forever Christian,
Your Grandma YaYa

February 14, 2012

TODAY IS THE TOMORROW YOU WORRIED ABOUT YESTERDAY by mia hinkle

Picture this. Two little boys about 9 years old. A Friday night sleepover. Pull-out sofa in the living room in the old house on Drexel. Watching late-night corny scary movies on a tiny black & white Sylvania screen. Dan and Karl (yes – the one and only – my husband Karl), two best friends hatch a plan to start a club. An exclusive club. A club that would bring together like-minded guys with a similar passion. A sacred brotherhood where they could support each other and be supported about an issue near and dear to their core values. The name of their club?

The F.H.C. – The Female Haters Club

It had basic, yet rigid rules:

  1. Hate all females
  2. Do not look at females
  3. Do not look at pictures of females
  4. Do not touch females, even if you get the chance
  5. Do not tell girls they are pretty, tell them they are ugly
  6. Do not make girls laugh
  7. Do not sing to girls
  8. Do not sing songs girls have made
  9. If you break these rules, say bad words, do bad actions or anything else bad – you are kicked out of the F.H.C.
  10. Try to get members

The contract was signed by “Ruler Karl” and it was also signed by Dan who added this to his signature, “agreed to this act a thousand times over.” They were serious about this! They were so worried about possible girl cooties they started a club of solidarity!

In time however, they found it was somewhat difficult to recruit new members. Imagine that! And then it didn’t take long and they themselves began to abandon some of those core values. What was an all-consuming concept on that Friday night sleepover, in time, became a distant foggy memory.

Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. A few weeks ago at Jackson’s Senior Night for Carmel’s Varsity Soccer Team, when they read the “words to live by” chosen by our sometimes-a-little-too-care-free 18 year old, this is what we heard over the crackly PA System. “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

While sometimes we wish Jackson was a little more attentive to the work at hand, I have to admit there is a lot of wisdom to this mantra. We could probably all stand to slow down, take a deep breath, and reflect on this phrase from time to time. If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.

Eighties pop music icon and soap star Rick Springfield has a new book out this fall and in it he describes the depression and feelings of low self-esteem he has battled for much of his life. He was born in Australia, and at the adorable age of 17 was filled with so much despair that he attempted suicide. The rope snapped as he kicked away the chair, and at that moment he knew he had been given a second chance to live a life of purpose. It hasn’t been easy for him even with all his good looks, talent, and success; he has still battled with depression off and on his whole life. His advice for kids filled with despair is just to wait and give it some time. Just wait a year or even a day. Everything will be different in a little time. Choking back tears he told a reporter, “If that rope hadn’t snapped, I would have missed so much; a loving wife, two great kids, an amazing career. Just give it some time. Everything will look different in time.”

The national news has recently been filled with headlines of Rutger’s college student Tyler Clementi (18)who threw himself off a bridge [2010] to his death when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem last month. A gay teen, he hadn’t come out to his parents yet when his roommate streamed his image onto the web. I’m sure he was convinced his world had come to an end with the very thought of his family finding out in this way. I’m sure he felt bullied and helpless and backed into a corner by his peers and perhaps society as a whole. I’m sure he felt like he had no other choice. But I am also sure his parents would have far preferred learning this information about their son, than to endure the forever pain of his suicide. I can’t help but think that if Tyler had given it a little time and reached out to his parents, school officials, and maybe law enforcement, that things would have looked very different in a year. Though it may have been a battle, he might have found out just how many people where in his corner. Given a little time, he may have discovered that the thought of suicide would have in time become a distant dim memory.

We tend to worry about so many things. You don’t have to be a depressed teen or a gay student or someone hiding a big sin, to be captive to worry. Worry seems to be universal and we seem to get better at it the older we get. Worry doesn’t matter how much money we make, what our address is, or what color our skin is. We worry about the bills. We worry about what others think about us. We worry about deadlines and the price of gas and the election results. We worry about our jobs and our spouses. We worry about getting pregnant … or not getting pregnant. Then we worry about our kids and their grades and their friends and their choices and their futures. And the list can go on and on if we let it. Worries are a lot like people – they grow bigger if you nurse them.

But I ask you, does worry accomplish one single thing? No, worrying is, in fact, bad for us. It can become a mental burden that can make us physically sick. Worrying is the opposite of trusting God. Worrying puts your focus in the wrong direction. But when we keep our eyes focused on God, it’s really hard to worry. When we remember his love for us, we realize we truly have nothing to worry about. God has an amazing plan for our lives and part of that plan includes taking care of us.

This October a really great thing happened in our family. We met for the first time, the birth mother of our youngest son, Jackson. Her name is Vicki and she is adorable, of course. She couldn’t take her eyes off him all through lunch. It’s been almost three years since we met our older son, Walker’s original family – and again I was so struck how Vicki was just an ordinary girl who got caught in a tough situation at time when she had no options and had to make a really hard decision.

And again I was so struck how things generally don’t happen by accident in this life; that my boys were specifically directed to my arms by God on purpose. I came to realize that Bobbie Jo and Vicki were used in the same way that Karl and I are used — to build a life for these specific boys for a special purpose that none of us may fully see right now. I feel like it is so amazing to be a part of His bigger plan.

Meeting both of these women was key in my coming to realize this fact. Prior to meeting one another, we all may have been prone to a little worry about a reunion.

For my husband and me: What if my child gets hurt by this new relationship?

For our sons: What if she doesn’t come for me? What if she doesn’t want to meet me? That would mean there must have been something wrong with me to make her want to give me away.

For her: What if I am a disappointment to him? What if I cry the whole meeting and embarrass him? I meant to have gone to college by now; I meant to have had it all together by now. What if he wants nothing to do with me?


But all these fears and worries vanished into thin air once we met and now we are all so glad we did.

Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.

I think fear of the unknown too often keeps too many of us from doing some really great things and meeting some really great people.

Fear of an unknown reaction of his parents kept Tyler Clemente from the rest of his life.

Worries about what others might think of him almost kept Rick Springfield from a great career and loving family.

Fear of possible rejection could have kept our sons from learning about their genetic heritage and could have kept us from meeting two really great women.

And fear of girl cooties could have kept my husband, Ruler Karl, as a charter member of the Female Haters Club and who knows, we may have never met.

And that would have been a real tragedy!

A SACRED SIGHTING IN THE DRESSING ROOM by mia hinkle

“I found the clarity bucket nestled against God’s will. I cupped my hands and scooped up all I could.”

In our Scribes creative writing group we meet monthly or so and read our assignments to each other and then offer input and editing. Lest you think that all our meetings are very serious and philosophical and heavy, I thought I’d share a piece that shows how well rounded our topics can be. One of our assignments was based on the 1950’s radio program called, “This I Believe” hosted by Edward R. Murrow, and more recently resurrected by NPR’s Bob Edwards. The assignment: Write a piece about a foundational belief, the secret of life, or a motto that has served as bedrock in your life’s journey in 500 words or less. This is what I submitted, sort of:

THIS I BELIEVE …the secret of life is… a good bra!

Now I’m not talking about a sexy Victoria Secret bra or the perfect body to fit inside the bra. I’m talking about a good bra. One that fits. One that is comfortable. One that does what its suppose to do. One that flatters your figure whatever it is.

I’m not kidding. You can put on the crumbiest old T-shirt or dowdiest dress, but if you slip it over a good bra, you will look and feel like a million bucks. Conversely, I once had dinner with a friend who was all decked out in a Chanel evening gown, but it looked like she had four breasts because of her much-too-small strapless bra.

Sounds simple, right? Buy a bra that fits and flatters. Easy enough, right? Then why do so many of us insist on wearing a bra that may have fit at one time, but not anymore? Or worse yet, why do we buy ones that never fit right in the first place? Come on, you know who you are!

When I was 14 years old, my mother brought me to an old flagship department store downtown Minneapolis where the lingerie matrons knew their foundation garments and had a full appreciation of the complexities of the female shape. Before that day, I had been buying bras off the rack. They fit me like rubber bands stretched reeeal tight around my ribcage, with straps that cut deep ravines into my shoulders. And the cup size!? I won’t even go there for fear of frightening small children in the audience!

Anyway, my mom took me to Daytons in 1968 and we were on a mission. A mission to find the perfect foundational garment just for me. While news of bra-burning blazed across national headlines, there was no such foolishness at OUR house. We couldn’t wait to discover the flawless fabric combined with precise design resulting in the perfect bra. You have probably heard that a good bra is like a good man… good looking, supportive, and never ever lets you down. But I digress.

OK. The dressing room… OMG !!!!!

You are looking at someone who, as a child, was so painfully shy, was often seen standing in the corner of the playground unable to work up the nerve to play with other children. I really didn’t even speak at school until 4th grade. Then in Jr High when showering after gym class was the law of the land, I refused to disrobe and ended up in the principal’s office trying to defend my position. “Why should I have to walk into the showers after standing along the sidelines during the entire 40 minute class anyhow?” The truth is I couldn’t bare to speak to the bespectacled principal in gray flannel about my strong desire to keep my clothes on in the presence of anyone, especially girls my own age.

Back to the dressing room.

So in walks the lingerie matron with arms full of brassieres. Playtex. Warner. Bali. Lyrca this. 18-hour-that. So many choices. “Try this on” “Looks great.” “Oh-oh, lets try this instead.” Well, after I worked through the trauma of the whole dressing room scene, I had a sacred sighting of my own of sorts … right there in the dressing room of the lingerie department.

The clarity bucket. Nestled against the wisdom of God. I cupped my hands and began to scoop it up.

It suddenly dawned on me that these older women had something astounding to offer me! A good foundation. Confidence. Maturity. Perspective. Assurance. That certain savoir-faire!

I once heard a wise pastor tell a group of high school graduates, “Search your heart now and nail down a few things you believe—those things that are non-negotiable. Hold fast to those things. Then go out and explore the world with an open mind and a tolerant heart, knowing that your firm foundation will support you … come what may.” That was really good advice I think. And advice I aspired to faithfully follow.

The trick, I came to realize, is to figure out at what point those non-negotiables (just like those unmentionables) might have changed due to that sweet process called life. Our bra size—just like the weight on our driver’s license—is not frozen in time, contrary to what we’d like to believe. We might do well to embrace these changes, not deny them. Perhaps a larger size. Or a smaller size. Possibly even an under-wire, heaven forbid.

Perhaps a point of view with a little less black and white and a few more pastels. Maybe a more inclusive world view as we shed our fear of unknown cultures. Possibly a realization that the whole story is usually more complicated than we may be privy to. How about accepting the fact that self-righteous talk suffocates everyone in the room, while grace and forgiveness are contagious.

A moment of clarity. God’s wisdom. I scooped up all I could. I like to think this may have been what my mother had in mind so many years ago at that flagship department store when she gave me a glimpse of the importance of a good foundation. Oh and of course… a good bra.

[I read this at a Scribes event entitled Sacred Sightings, where all the essays were about seeing God in everyday life.]

THAT VERY WINTER by mia hinkle

She came bearing gifts. Timeless treasures wrapped in heavy brown paper with little clods of black soil mixed up with dry bulbs and withered stems. That warm autumn weekend we turned the hard clay soil in my yard and planted irises and day lilies and peonies that had been dug up from her garden and her mother’s garden over 600 miles away.

That very winter, she died.

And in the spring those purple irises and yellow day lilies and scarlet peonies accessorized my yard with the same splashes of color that had dressed up my childhood home.

Was there some internal clock that whispered to my mother that it was time to dig under her cutting garden? A garden she had tended since I could remember. She was known as the “flower lady” at church because she made sure there were flowers on the altar every Sunday. Sometimes they came from her own garden and sometimes they came from the local florist, but one thing was clear. She loved how God could talk to us through flowers.

At her funeral we handed out more than 400 flower seed packets to everyone there. Ten years later, people still send us pictures in Christmas cards of the perennials that come up every year from those little seed packets.

My mother loved the earth. She loved the soil. She loved the work and the sweat and the sore muscles that came along with tending her garden. She loved the idea that the hard thing you do today almost always blooms into something beautiful in time.

She loved the fact that, if we let it, our future has more of an impact on our actions, than our past does. She knew that last summer’s flowers were gone and forgotten by fall. It’s the season to come she had on her mind when she started to page through those seed catalogs every January. Then she would begin with the work of it. Enriching the soil with real horse manure. Slipping the seeds in just right. Pulling out the weeds that would strangle. Keeping the water just so, not too much – not too little.

She always learned a little something from last year’s mistakes, but it was the anticipated season that kept her out there on hands and knees, with dirty hands and aching back.

The connection with the land runs deep in our family. My grandparents were farmers. My dad was a farmer. My uncles were farmers. My sister married a farmer. My brother and his sons love to escape their day jobs to help my brother-in-law with planting and harvest.

There is a rhythm, a very heartbeat within some people that resonates with the earth. The ebb and flow of the cycle of life, of sacrifice and reward, of death and rebirth, is a constant reminder of the power of God in the universe. A reminder of the fortitude and strength and foresight it takes to continue to do the hard thing on the inkling that something wonderful will result in time, even though all you may see right now is dirt and sweat.

Giving birth is a hard thing. Babies are born into or out of all kinds of circumstances: a loving home, a back seat romance, a lifeless marriage, a torrid affair, a violent rape, cultural obligation, too little money, too much money, the list goes on. But that little egg and sperm couldn’t care less. They just join up and take hold. He begins to grow regardless of the circumstance of his conception. Mysteriously life makes a way … and he just holds on. No mistakes. No accidents in the eyes of God. Yes, giving birth is a hard thing, but almost always that new life blooms into something beautiful in time.

This year we met the birthmother of our oldest son. Talk about doing the hard thing with little expectation of seeing the blossom of it. When she signed those papers and held him for the last time in the hospital when he was just three days old, I am sure it didn’t feel heroic or selfless. It just felt like she was doing a very hard thing. And then she had to wait 18 years to see the beautiful blossom her baby boy had become. When she signed those papers and the nurse lifted him from her arms, she must have had blind faith in a better future for him. What was done was done and over and in the past, but she held his future in her hands … along with that pen.

My mother was right. Again! The future does impact our actions more than our past does. The hard thing you do today does bloom into something beautiful in time. My mother was right because she was listening to what God can tell us through the flowers.


STORIES FROM THE KITCHEN TABLE by mia hinkle

[This piece is intended as an introduction to a series of stories based in family memories shared over the years.]  

If our kitchen table could talk, oh the stories we’d hear.  Growing up, our home revolved around the kitchen table.  It was at the top of the steps coming in from the garage, a step from the phone, and a few steps from the coffeepot.   

This is where we shared our meals, both everyday and holiday.  It is where we read the morning paper and opened the mail and struggled with our homework.  It is where we left notes telling where we were, who we were with, and when we’d be home. It is where neighbor women would come when they needed a word of advice or encouragement from my mother who, although just a few years their senior, had a lifetime of wisdom and friendship ready to dispense over a cup of coffee.  It is where my dad told and retold stories about fishing and flying.  It is where we ate rice with food coloring every night when the cupboard was bare and the pocketbook thin.  It is where we held family conferences to share good news and bad–and to make the big and not so big decisions.  It is where my mother sat rubbing her forehead as she paid the bills.  It is where my father now plays endless hours of solitaire—the kids all grown and his wife too soon in heaven.   

The oak table is over a century old, handmade and the color of honey.  It came with our family from our farm in west central Minnesota to our home in the suburbs when I was just eleven years old.  It bore the scares from notches accidentally hacked into the edge from its first life when it was used as a surface to butcher chickens and pigs.   

Not long after Minnesota became the 32nd state and the Civil War wounds were still fresh, our kitchen table was the center of my mother’s paternal grandparent’s farm life.  When Grandpa Tody’s parents were first married, I imagine the table was used for meals, canning, sewing, repairs, reading, and a myriad of family projects, laced with the rich conversation that goes along with busy hands.  As the years passed, the sturdy oak table was used as a surface to butcher livestock and repair harnesses.  Over decades of daily use, it became covered with too many thick coats of varnish and soiled with the blood, sweat, and tears associated with the relentless rigors of Midwestern farm life.  By the time it came to my folks, it was brownish gray and dull.  

World War II was raging across the sea, and in 1944, the year of their engagement, my parents painstakingly toiled evenings and weekends, stripping and sanding that table.  Soon they discovered their hunch was right.  This was a beautiful piece of workmanship with scrolled beaded legs and hand-hewed sliders enabling the table to seat up to 14 guests.  By the time they were finished, they had a solid and attractive piece of furniture to begin their household and their life together.   

Since that day, our family has depended on that kitchen table and taken it for granted, admired its beauty and misused it, relied on its function and taken care of it–just as we have regarded one another.  

Some of my fondest memories involve gathering around our kitchen table after school or work, scarfing cinnamon toast and telling stories of our day or gossip we had heard while out in the world.  My mother would often preface a story by saying, “Now girls, this is kitchen talk.  You don’t have to tell everything you know.”  This was her way of saying that the kitchen table was sanctuary…a safe house for sharing.  The telling and retelling and analyzing of these events turned out to be our classroom, exploring ideas and forming values as we laughed and cried.   

If our kitchen table could talk, oh the stories we’d hear.