If you knew your time was short, and you could give your child or grandchild one piece of advice, what would it be? That is the question Matthew Ross Smith asks as part of his “The Spaces Between Your Fingers” project. I am privileged to know Matt thanks to my fine flock of Philly friends, and I continue to be impressed by the sincerity and creativity of Matt’s mission to share wisdom between generations and to support families struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease. As part of World Alzheimer’s Day, Matt posed another question/exercise: write about one of your “kitchen table memories.” Doesn’t have to be long, or make any great point, just bring us there as vividly as you can.
Matt’s project stems from his experience with his grandfather. I remember the day my dad threw out the term “Alzheimer’s” in reference to my own grandfather. He said it as if we all knew, but I had no idea. I just thought my grandfather was old, and memories (unlike his steady stock of jokes) fade, but apparently doctors had officially declared his dementia as something more serious and official. Thus, it seemed fitting that my response be about my grandfather as well. Much like Grandpa Wagner, brevity has never really been my thing, but here goes…
On Meals and Memories
“Home is where the heart is” supposedly, but part of why I wanted to study architecture was because I really believed in the power of walls and the specifics of a place. One of the prominent structures convincing me of this alternative view was the always-unlocked farmhouse at the end of a long, dusty road in small town South Dakota. This was the home of my Grandparents- Lawrence and Sedonia.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have too many opportunities to visit them, but I associate them so strongly with that farmhouse. I used to draw floor plans of their home long before I stepped foot in an architecture studio. Those walls, floors, roof and windows shaped how I understood and related to my Grandparents. To this day, I can smell the house, feel the change from the low carpet of the entry to the thicker living room carpet; see the food scrap bin by the sink that would eventually compost in the garden; feel the coolness caused by shade trees; feel the warmth of walking through the bedroom door to the roof, and above all, I can still hear the bustle of my grandmother in the kitchen.
Anyone who knew Sedonia, knew her to be inextricably linked to that kitchen and caring for others. There was a smaller table, where I would eat breakfast while Grandma was busy peeling fruit or prepping a batter of some sort. I might go outside to walk the country roads with my sister, the farm dog trailing behind us, or I might read on that rooftop spot or test drive the rusting tractors. Meanwhile, Grandma would continue to bustle around that kitchen. Once the sun indicated noon and Grandpa recorded yet another observation of the day’s weather in his journal, it was time to gather around the larger, dining room table.
There were many meals there, but I will always remember one specific fried chicken lunch and not just because it was the best fried chicken I’d ever had. The memory I have archived forever happened at the end of the meal. What I saw on my plate was scrap and bone, but what Grandpa saw was perfectly good fried chicken going to waste. He not only showed me what a very clean chicken bone looks like, but he grabbed a slice of bread and sopped up any grease sticking to the plate. He didn’t stop at my pickings either. I had city-spoiled sisters with equally promising plates.
My grandfather died this spring at the ripe ol’ age of 92, and he didn’t die of clogged arteries. He really proved to me how far hard work, a good attitude and a strong appreciation for homemade fried chicken can take a person in life. He and my grandmother also showed me one of the greatest loves of all time. Theirs was a love developed through dance, protected between two holding hands and shared at the dining room table. That always-unlocked farmhouse at the end of the long, dusty road really housed a lot of heart.