I can see the side to side gentle sway of my mama's hips as she stirred the batter. Facing the counter she leaned over the bowl, working out lumps until they disappeared. Into the oven went cookies, cake, or some other deliciousness. Then Mama faced the sink. Steam rose and bubbles formed, as she put on those old yellow rubber gloves. Hands then plunged and scrubbed and made things clean again. The counter was last to be washed down, until the white tile sparkled.
With that she turned to me and smiled, went to the oven and checked on that night's dessert. Mama always served dessert. A single mom has to have priorities about what to keep and what to let go. But she never let dessert slide, even when it was just us three.
My brother sat across the kitchen table from me, and Mama sat to my side. Sweet and sour pork chops and barbecued ribs were staples; then came dessert. Lemon bars and chocolate chip cookies were among my favorites.
When there were guests, I helped to set the dinning room table. An ironed table cloth and crisp linen napkins encircled candles and low lying plants. When she really wanted things special, Mama'd have me polish the leaves on the centerpiece then melt down the old wax from the glass votives before adding new candles. I learned young how to order utensils in their rightful place, when to fill water glasses, and where each guest would be seated.
The placement of our dinner guests was paramount; subtly orchestrated, but never mentioned. Guests always faced the living room. The fireplace, house plants, and seats that would cradle after-dinner conversations bid them welcome. But my Mama… Mama and I sat side by side, and we faced the kitchen.
Though her kitchen was always clean and pots and pans were put away long before dinner guests arrived, she never wanted them facing the fluorescent reality of her sink. She gave them her best. Both in service and then in seat. Preferring each and every one of them.
Thirty years later, she still leads by example. But today, when we visit her quaint home, downsized though lovely as ever, I am her most honored guest. Her daughter. Because I am privy to Mama's secrets, I accept the seat she offers me at her table, with my back to the kitchen, as the love offering it is.
Then Mama… Mama faced the sink.
When I speak at churches for their Christmas teas and springtime brunches, I love to arrive early as hostesses lay their tables. Linens and centerpiece bouquets are offered up as fragrant offerings to their guests. Once I'm hooked up to a microphone and told when I'll be introduced, I walk the room. Ladies bedeck each place setting with family china and crystal, adding thoughtful party favors and placards beside each tea cup. Some are extravagant, others simple; a tall glass vase of hydrangeas, or a small spray of roses from one's garden.
One afternoon, as I enjoyed these festivities before guests arrived, I overheard two women standing together. They were co-hosting a large round table for their mutual friends. One of the two said, "Here, lets take these two seats now, so we have the best view." The other meekly responded, "Why don't we take these ones instead?" She walked to the opposite side of the table, and pulled out the chairs that had their backs completely to the stage.
Preference is part of our family moto; I mention it near the end of my page about me, and confess how difficult it is to live and teach. I understand the struggle it is to lay down your life each day as a mother and wife, and choose instead the best for others. But let me encourage you today to do just that. Oh, the joy that service offers both the giver and the gifted.
I'd love to hear from you: Who was or is your greatest influence in this regard? A father who did the dishes then bathed the children? A friend's mother who always made your favorite brownies? A grandfather who brought flowers to his bride, week after week, all those years? Or a Mama who faced the kitchen?
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