A place at the table


We were down in LA this weekend remembering my grandma’s life.

I knew this day was coming soon. About a month ago I had visited. She said, “Samson, I’m tired. I don’t think I’m going to make it to my 88th birthday.” Recently, her eyesight had gotten so bad she couldn’t read or do her beloved crossword puzzles. Essentially, she got tired of living an increasingly austere existence and decided to move on. So we gathered together on Friday night to remember.

Remembering a life in my family means telling stories that could be movies, laughing, and, of course, playing cards. This is what we did after my dad’s death about two years ago. The whole night we talked about what my dad would have done had he been there: how he would have accused his brother Kenny of cheating at least a dozen times; and how he would have laughed at least as hard as the rest of us. It was a way to keep him present without agonizing over his absence. And now he’s become a part of every game.

Cards form the foundation of the social framework in our family. Every time the family gets together, the cards come out. When I think back to my own childhood, a vivid montage plays through my mind: my mom and dad, his two brothers and their girlfriends—and later, wives—gathered around various battered kitchen tables, wreathed in cigarette smoke, drinking coffee, and laughing, laughing with glorious abandon. I wanted to be a part of that group, to feel that sense of inclusion, acceptance, and joy of togetherness.

Finally being able to participate as a fully independent player (i.e. being responsible for my own hand), felt like a rite of passage. I could sense a shift in my relationship with the people around that table. I felt the weight of privilege and responsibility, a weight I accepted gladly. I knew that such things came with adulthood, and I wanted to make my parents proud by demonstrating my intelligence and maturity.

Not that such aspirations were always (or even consistently) realized. But at least I had been given the opportunity. I was part of the group, even if i didn’t drink coffee or smoke.

Now, when I play, it is with a tinge of sadness for my dad and his parents, players who are no longer at the table. The absence would be more acute—too acute—if there wasn’t another generation to fill those empty seats. One of my cousins has taken a spot. And Logan and Kaia will be in a position to take their own place at the table in a few years. First, though, I have to show them the ropes, so we started playing go, fish recently. I love watching them concentrate on their hands, asking someone for a king with such sincerity. They are incredibly, kissably cute.

I feel such a warm sense of fulfillment as I prepare this next generation to take their place at the table, how to interact, build bonds, and strengthen ties. I can only hope they will reflect back on their experiences with the same sense nostalgia and appreciation.


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