My mother has a small display of antique silver spoons that now hang in my kitchen. Tarnished and covered in patina, all twelve of them represent a single childhood memory, that when I was young, I hated, but in adulthood, I cherish.
Each year, as Christmas inched ever closer, I remember my mother would take that display down, and call all five of us to the kitchen table. As we approached, there were two spoons placed in front of each seat. Just two. Beside each pair, there was a travel-size tube of toothpaste, a small bowl of warm water, and two cotton cloths (usually torn from an old tee-shirt).
The five of us would file in, our heads hung so that each one of our chins rested against our chests. We would drag our feet on the carpet to non-verbally declare our disappointment; we would be wasting a perfectly good Saturday afternoon of playing in the hills and in the Fountain River (which by the way we were forbidden to do) in trade for a few hours of scrubbing and polishing.
We each sat in a chair, shoulders hunched and faces pinched, grumbling about how much we detested this activity. But it never phased mom. Ever. Instead, she would begin her instruction (which we had endured every year) on polishing the spoons that loomed in front of us.
Silently, we all picked up the first one, squeezing a dime-sized dollop onto the spoon, and used the first cloth to begin the process of removing the sheen of patina that mimicked the color of dried tea on a white counter-top. The air was thick with tension. You could almost taste it.
But as we progressed through this forced manual labor, something miraculous happened. Happy chatter infiltrated the stifling silence. Hopes, dreams, wishes and worries were traded among us. Five children and a single mother enjoyed each other’s presence. It felt like a family; like the whole world beyond our front door had disappeared and nothing but the six of us mattered.
When I think of it now, I realize how much I loved this. It was this event that brought us together as a family. The bickering subsided. The distance between us all shrunk. For a single afternoon, there was love. Genuine love. Love without strings attached.
Maybe tonight I should sit at the kitchen table with my mother, pull out the toothpaste, and polish those spoons. Chat with her about my hopes, my dreams, my wishes and worries. Feel her love for only a single moment before her confusion clouds her mind, obscuring her memories once again. Maybe.