Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I’m not entirely sure what it says about me that I am writing my second blog about a table. Long time readers are familiar with my previous post about my new dining room table, and so shouldn’t be too surprised (I suppose) by this reflection on another, much more modest piece of family furniture. I guess if the reflection was just about the physical attributes of the table, that might seem puzzling. Believe me, this entry is about more than that.

In fact, this particular table has featured prominently in my “theory of youth ministry”, which I have shared in countless places over the years from district publications to, most recently, the 2008 LCMS Theological Convocation in St. Louis this past August. More on that some other time … Suffice it to say, this is one gem of a table.

My dad’s parents were two of the best people I have ever known. Grandma and Grandpa Staude were the epitome of quality folk —and I was blessed to really know them throughout the first 22-odd years of my life. The table that I am immortalizing through this post is their kitchen table; a rescue from an old diner in St. Joseph, MI, complete with the requisite Formica top and stainless steel accents. For many, many years, this little table was nestled warmly in the window nook of my grandmother’s home—the window side so tightly set against the wall that only the smallest of grandchildren could comfortably shimmy into those seats for a meal. And the color? That’s the best part. The color of the accompanying chairs reflected something of my grandfather’s boyish glee and silly side: a garish pink. Think Grease, the Pink Ladies; the color of 1950s ice- cream-parlor-pink. Fabulous chairs.

And if you knew my grandmother (who never owned a store bought dress and was hardly the definition of a rare beauty), well, let’s just say she probably never wore pink in her life! And was the better for it, I would guess. Strangely, it never occurred to me that it might be odd that my elderly, farm-minded grandparents sported a pink Formica table in their otherwise fairly staid and steady home. It just was, and we just loved it.

Every morning when we would visit, my sister and I would wake to eat breakfast with Grandma and Grandpa. There was a toaster to operate, devotions to read, and stories to share. We colored at that table. We helped dry dishes washed clean in my grandmother’s enormous farm-styled kitchen sink (original and not a Pottery Barn-esque knock-off). I remember cooking grilled cheese sandwiches for my husband and Grandmother after he had proposed, and eating them sitting around that table. I remember making a strawberry pie to feed my family while we were there trying to decide what should happen to the farmhouse after my Grandmother died from cancer. It’s a meaningful table.

And for the past 10 years since her passing, it has been stored in the quiet recesses of my Aunt and Uncle’s barn. This is a table that needs more than quiet dust motes for company! First in a soda fountain shop, and then as a centerpiece for a family as my Dad and Aunt grew-up, and then as a place for quiet devotion as my Grandparents would begin their day with prayer before the sun—this is a table for life. And for my grandparents, life meant that it was a place for laughter, too.

I am a firm believer in the importance of these necessary, rooted things. This table is more than just a possession, an inanimate, material thing … it is part of our family. It is a gathering place, and as such it represents many things that are good, real, important, and lasting.

My Grandparents pink table has come out of its storage space. It now holds a place of tremendous honor in my sister’s kitchen, which you can find in a rambling 100 year-old home in downtown St. Joseph. She just moved there with her husband, my two nephews, and sweet niece. In this enormous home that once housed a mayor of the city, my Grandparents silly, bright, and impossible Formica pink table holds a place of honor.

This weekend, I visited Katie with my daughter, Sydney and my best friend, Kathy, in tow. And the first evening we were there, we gathered elbow to elbow around the table for dinner. And the next morning, we gathered for coffee, playing with the babies, and laughter. And then for lunch. And then to work on homework with my nephew. To drink wine late into the evening. And watch the sun in the morning light. And to talk. And laugh. And be. I found myself sitting back from the scene, thinking about how totally happy I was that this odd little table had found its place once more.

Throughout the weekend, I heard again the sounds of all of those years of laughter, and thoughts, and prayers, and conversations, and I felt so grateful to be experiencing all of those things once more. I remember when my grandmother died feeling the deep hurt of grief, and wondering if things would ever feel right again. And of course, they did. Part of growing and aging is that you start to understand that deep joy can and does follow deep hurt. It’s a lesson that never grows old, and always moves me. Being at this table again was to live joy, laugh love, and revel in connection—what a table. What a place.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Don't climb a tree with a dolly.

"When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will." Abraham Lincoln, or at least attributed to him by a Hollywood screenwriter.

"You're such a Pollyanna."

Have you ever heard that phrase? Have you dished it out, or been on the receiving end?

We used to make kind fun of my old work friend, Jim with this slightly snarky statement. In response, he proudly framed an album cover from the 1960s record of the Disney movie soundtrack. You see, Jim didn't have any problem whatsoever being considered kind, generally positive, and well-known for being inclined to see things on the bright side.

"You're such a Pollyanna."

When did that phrase become a negative thing; an uncomfortable, "who wants to be a Pollyanna," expression? After all, Pollyanna is just a silly, happy, naive girl, right? Maybe.

When I was a little girl, I loved the Disney movie, Pollyanna. I loved the hair bows and terrific dresses, to be sure. And like most youngsters, I cried at the end. I remember worrying that Pollyanna would never walk again, and wishing that they would make a Pollyanna 2.

Well, enter adult perspective, where "being a Pollyanna" is somehow construed to mean that you are a sappy, glass-half-full type. I hadn't actually watched Pollyanna for many years. I didn’t go out and rent it or anything, but was led back to this compelling story through the magic of 9-million TV channels and free Showtime for a year.

Tonight while channel surfing - we saw it was on, and with my mother-in-law, who is visiting for a few days, decided we had to watch it. Leon seemed just a bit skeptical (he had never seen the film!), and became even more so when we casually explained that in the end of the movie, this sweet little girl would come crashing out of a tree and be paralyzed because the dolly she won at the town fair – oh by the way, she’s an orphan and her parents were poor missionaries who couldn’t afford her a dolly and instead gave her crutches – fell from the roof, which she was balancing on because her mean old aunt made her sleep in an attic bedroom and had not let her go to said fair in the first place.

Why on earth he found this troublesome is unclear. …

Still, we watched it. And oh, it was so nice to immerse in the 1960 Disney attitude. To consider what a difference one person can make; to be struck (as a new parent perhaps in a fresh way) by the importance of learning from a child; to enjoy the total cheese-factor of the premise. And yes - I did cry at the end, and rejoiced (and yes, clapped like a child) as Harrington Town became "the Happy Town," and with adult understanding realized that, yes - Pollyanna would probably walk again, and even if she didn't - well, that wasn't the really the point of the film anyway!

Modern day applications from Pollyanna certainly abound.

I won't go on and on about our cynical world. The world has always been so. We are just a little louder about it now. And I won't wax on about the need for seeing the best in people, playing the Glad Game, or the importance of considering the Happy Texts in Scripture. It's enough to suggest that watching this sweet family film, from an entirely different era, provided me with a wonderful simplicity of perspective with which to start another week.

And maybe, I'll have steak and ice cream for breakfast tomorrow - just to keep the nice feeling alive.

Be happy today!

(And if you have time, take a gander at this clip, which actually talks about the whole concept of being called a Pollyanna!)