I was five years old, and I was hiding under the table. I waited patiently, having endured what seemed like hours of boring conversation, starring imaginatively through the translucent yellow tablecloth at the familiar feet nearby. Slowly, a hand came down to eye level, with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in tow. My grandma always knew how to make me smile.
Visiting my grandmother’s house in Providence was always the same. Family, food, and conversation around the table. As a kid, I cared more about the adventures beneath the table than the stories going on above it. But now that I’m building a family of my own, the stories matter.
Last Christmas, we told my grandma that my wife was pregnant with our first child. She was 94 years old, and hadn’t seemed to age a bit. She was sitting at the same kitchen table when I called, and I could hear her smiling through the phone as she told us how happy she was.
Unfortunately, my grandma passed away this spring just a few months before my son was born. She never got to meet him, but there’s no doubt that she’ll be in his life, through the family, food, and conversation around the table.
A House Full of History
When we first moved from the east coast to Arizona, our home was completely utilitarian. We had silverware from college, a few pieces of furniture that no one else in the family wanted, and the entire 2009 IKEA collection. But slowly, over the last few years, we’ve curated items that we love.
I read that Steve Jobs’ house was almost entirely empty for years, because he had such high standards for the items that he would look at every day. While we’re not that discriminating, we’ve gotten comfortable leaving empty spaces in the house rather than trying to fill everything at once. Instead of buying mass-manufactured items, we want to fill our home with history, stories, and experiences.
When my grandma passed away earlier this year, walking through her home was almost a therapeutic experience. My dad and I found my grandfather’s birth certificate, old photos, and hundreds of pieces that had a place in her life, some which now have a place in mine.
I remember her making Italian wedding soup when I came to visit (with the little meatballs!), and now we use her ladle in our kitchen. I remember walking through the pristine rooms at her house (no shoes!) and looking at the museum of china on display, and now we have a set on our table. We have ornate espresso cups and whiskey tumblers in our cabinets, an old typewriter in our living room, and one of my grandfather’s ties hanging in my closet.
The memories are everywhere.
Passing Down Traditions
One of the first nights after we brought my son home, I was sitting with him on my chest and he was crying. Almost instinctively, I reverted to singing the songs that my dad used to sing when I was a kid. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Johnny Mathis… the lyrics had worked their way out of my subconscious as if I’d been singing them all week. It’s incredible how past and present seemed to unite.
As my son grows up, I want the experiences and memories from my life to find a way into his life. Last year, I built a kitchen table for our new house. This year, we decorated it with my grandmother’s plates. Next year, it will be coated in baby food. And some day, maybe it will find it’s way into my son’s apartment or house, and play a role in his life.
If you want your grandchildren to remember you, tell them stories about your grandparents. And nothing quite encapsulates a story like the items that were a part of them. My son may never meet my grandmother, but he’ll know about her. Through family, food, and conversation around the table.
Chris Ronzio helps business owners organize chaos and get things done through efficiency consulting and the use of online tools. As a high school student, he founded a nationwide video production business that sold over $2 million in youth sporting event videos. He’s a traveler, entrepreneur, and a new dad living with his wife in Phoenix, AZ.