I realized I’d never find the salad tongs. Surrounded by boxes, I flung the thin white paper we’d used to pack our dishes across the kitchen, digging into every tight corner of cardboard to find the missing utensils. This was to be the first night serving dinner on real plates since we’d moved after two weeks of only paper and plastic. I’d bought new taper candles and arranged a fresh bouquet. The scent of skewers was wafting, fresh rolls were steaming and the salad was chopped and set, jewels of tomatoes and peppers glowing on the table top. But those tongs, the silliest of all kitchen instruments really, eluded me, and I was brought to tears that we’d have to use two big forks in their place.
It wasn’t of course, about the tongs at all. Or about the way I’d intended to serve up a salad. It was really all about being in a new town and a new home that both made me a stranger. It was about wanting to make our meal ‘just right’ so that I could fake a feeling of fitting there by posturing perfection. It was about wearing loneliness and adjusting to a new geography, about being forever the new girl and imagining that I could conquer the ache by the way I performed for my own family.
When you set the table, do you ever make it tidy and pretty, with everything in its place because of a hurt that runs longer than your tablecloth? Do you find yourself imagining others there, laughing, sharing and marking time together, but only picture the reality if its all arranged just so, with ramekins and chargers and…tongs?
Perhaps on this night, it was my dream of community and the thought of the one left behind that brought my tears. If my table was set fine, surely then, I was one step closer to hosting a feast and finding friends. Instead I tasted something bitter. A part of my heart’s expectations were exposed and I ate that meal right along with melancholy.
Not long after we settled a storm blew through leaving phone lines dangling in the front yard. After approximately 52 phones calls to various agencies, I’d given up and assumed they’d drag there as part of the scenery forever. They swung near the driveway and I chirped at the children whenever they edged too near. Can someone be electrocuted from a telephone line? I’d google again to be certain….What an eyesore too. Another piece of our home not quite in a row.
But it was those swinging lines that made Mary knock at my door. She didn’t know if we’d seen them hanging low as she walked by. It was cold when she stopped and I’d just warmed our kettle for tea. I sheepishly asked her in and the invitation felt brave. We talked about schools and churches and books we both loved. It was my new girl beginning- a fresh step toward a new friend, toward community and home.
The next week when the snow fell fierce and ice shut down the city, Mary texted an invitation to potluck with the neighbors on our street. Her home was so warm; soup and cocoa were simmering, music played and drinks were poured. There was joy in this kitchen so full of new faces, a gentle simplicity in how we all came trudging in with heavy coats over sweaters and our giant duck boots. I’d brought a salad topped with the colorful jewels of tomatoes and peppers. I was anxious to eat it with friends. “Oh how pretty!” Mary remarked. “But you know what….I just lost my tongs!”