Widows and Wedding China: How to Clean Up a Lonely Mess

Bread FlowerAsparagus sizzled in the top oven. I pulled lasagna from the other and looked up. The golden girl waltzed through the door with pep in her step. She came bearing hugs and kisses and cards, and beamed as my boy told her she was “thinking really good” when she got him that balloon. Later, Grandma Hamilton would recount it all, her voice going high like helium through vocal chords.

Grandma Jean bounced her namesake, Farah Jean, on her lap and chuckled that most mornings her biggest decision is whether or not to get out of her pajamas before breakfast. I pictured her at her kitchen Valentine's Balloontable, where Grandpa’s pocket calendar juts from the catch-all basket, evidence that he was here making plans and accomplishing them.

The grandmothers sat down, each in the place prepared for them. We bowed our heads together, generations holding hands, and the youngest of us prayed aloud for the meal. What took hours to prepare took mere minutes to devour, but we lingered at the table anyway, going from one subject to another, a twenty course conversation. Our Two GrandmasThey heaped on helpings of words, happy ones. I took it all in, the marginalized feeling their worth.

I thought of saving the clean-up until morning, leaving the wedding china paused in time under smears of salad dressing, remnants of iceberg lettuce, curls of pasta left behind. Sparkling cider pooled in concave crystal, a cupcake paper sprawled, maraschino stem tossed aside– that mess, it was evidence of time spent, joy shared. We broke bread together and left the basket empty, crumbs on the tablecloth.

Grandma Jean looked out the window into winter. “Does it get any easier?” she motioned to her fellow widow. “Growing up in a full house, then marrying George and making a full house of our own…I’ve never had to live alone.”

“It’s been one day at a time…eight years of one day at a time since my own George passed.”

“Too bad we live so far apart,” her snowy locks glinted in the light, “We need more times like this.”

I chauffeured them home through flurries. Then, back in my kitchen, I checked the menu to see what I’d planned for breakfast in the morning. I had every ingredient except the clean table. Since my husband had done the hard work of putting the kids to bed, the clean up was all mine. I pushed through my drowsiness and sentimental procrastination and made myself grab a single plate. A well-known widow said it this way, that when you’re left with piles of work and only your two hands to get it done, “Just do the next thing.”

I scraped scraps into the can and ran the fragile surface under the faucet’s stream. Then another, and another, and another until all the china was stacked and ready for a more thorough wash the next day. I crowded forks in my fist, a bouquet of silverware for the dishwasher. I shook place mats over the table. I opened the door to a burst of arctic air and waved the tablecloth out into the night, crumbs floating down with snow.

I threw a prayer out there with all those tiny morsels in the air, evidence of a once upon a time feast falling to the ground. The kitchen rag warmed my hands. I circled it over espresso wood all of a sudden bare.

{We may not be able to do it all, but we can help with what’s right in front of us…we can love on the people in our reach. What ideas do you have for meeting the needs of widows in your circle of influence?}

6 thoughts on “Widows and Wedding China: How to Clean Up a Lonely Mess

    • I know your attention means so much to Sheila. Somehow a holiday on the calendar helps me to be a bit more intentional, to step outside of the long string of day in/day out and plan a special time for celebration and connection. It’s good that we mark our months with these feasts and festivals. :)

    • Thank you, friend. Through your writing, I’ve had a peek into how wonderful life would have been growing up with grandmothers near and nurturing. I’m grateful that although I didn’t have my grandmothers while I was growing up, God has allowed me to adopt my husband’s grandmothers in adulthood. Love ’em.

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