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GAIL WHITE Life lessons learned on my kitchen table

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

I was wiping off the kitchen table for what seemed like the hundredth time today.
With the children home all day for the holidays, it seems one of them is hungry all the time.
My mind wandered aimlessly while performing this mundane task, and I wondered to myself how many times I had wiped this table clean -- thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of times.
As I began calculating numbers in my head, my thoughts were interrupted by what my eyes witnessed beneath my dishcloth.
There were marks and scars and gashes all over the table's surface.
This table was bought less than two years ago. It replaced an old "inherited" table that we had used for years.
I remember how thrilled I was with the table when we brought it into the house. I vowed to take perfect care of it.
Looking at its marred surface, I realized my vow had been broken.
There is a large area near the center of the table where the varnish is removed. This mark appeared not long after the table arrived.
Drip by drip
Phillip had spent some of his birthday money on a Snoopy snow cone machine. I remember driving him home from the store. He was so excited to make the frosty, flavored treats.
He and his brother and the neighbor crushed ice with the machine and poured toppings on the ice. They crushed and laughed and ate for hours.
When they were done, they left the snow cone machine sitting on the table. The remnants of ice left in it dripped out onto the new table and stained the varnish.
That was stain No. 1. I was very upset when I saw it.
Other stains appeared gradually.
White glue spots are found near the edge of one side of the table from Andrew building his Cub Scout rain-gutter regatta boat. It is hard to keep glue from dripping off the protective newspaper covering when you are so intent on creating a winning vessel.
Gash marks are strategically placed on the table in front of where each chair sits. These are remnants of David's Play-Doh adventures. He has created and cut up more snakes and pizza pies on that table than can be calculated.
The gash marks are made more noticeable by the dull areas that mysteriously appear in those areas in front of the chairs as well.
Many bowls of cereal have been consumed in those dull areas. Much milk has been spilled to create the lackluster look.
Something new
Just as I was finishing my wiping task, I noticed a new set of marks on the table. Thin lines circling the entire circumference of the table -- eight or 10 of them, going around and around.
"I saw David playing with his car on the table," Robert suggested as he saw me looking at the marks.
I rubbed with the dishcloth. The lines did not come off.
Once again, I could feel my blood starting to boil as I thought about still another mark ruining my precious table.
But as I walked to the sink, a realization about the table hit me.
This place where my family sits together to eat and laugh and share stories of their day, by its imperfections, is becoming a legacy of our life.
Every mark is a story. Each gash is a memory.
My preoccupation with perfection caused me to miss the beauty of each imperfection.
The faults in my kitchen table have given it great personality and character -- features it would not possess if it were still perfect.
Life is like my kitchen table.
We want our lives to be perfect and unblemished, but it is in the spills, messes and gashes of living that we build our character and personality.
As we celebrate a new year, I wish you much happiness and joy.
But, also, may your year be filled with just enough milk spills and glue spots to create marks of character and personality in you -- your living legacy that cannot be wiped away.