Let’s start with a backstory. The real story is in the last ⅓, but don’t jump ahead just yet! We’ll paint a backdrop of rich texture and introduce key characters: Me, Betty, my mom and brother, Betty’s son, Gaston and my daughter. But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.
Do you remember Betty? Of course you do! She was friends with my older brother, Chuck, after he graduated from college. I was still in middle school, but I looked up to her and hoped that she would become my sister-in-law. How cool is that!
I grew up in a Chicago suburb. In this photo from the 1970s Betty prepares a Sedar meal at our home. (Hence, a box of Matzo on the right).
Betty and Chuck never felt the electricity needed for romance. But we didn’t lose Betty to the wind. She formed a close personal and professional friendship with my Mom. They worked together at Mom’s antique store and the two of them started several business ventures.
Eventually, Betty got married and moved to France with her new husband. He had managed a Chicago restaurant, but got a job at much fancier restaurant in Paris.
I visited Paris in the 1980s after graduating from college. Betty had already been there for 4 years, and our families had all but lost touch.
This was an impulse trip. Northwest Airlines started non-stop service to France. To announce the new flights, they cut the fare to $99 with no advance reservations needed. It was as easy as stepping onto a bus. And so, I flew to Paris for a long weekend. I had no plan, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t know anyone—except Betty and her son, Gaston.
When Betty moved to France, Gaston was just 8 years old. Now, at 12, he was speaking French more fluently than his mom. I borrowed him as personal translator and tour guide. (Today, he lives in Poland with his son and daughter).
On the left (1980s), 12 year old Gaston shows me the Eiffel Tower. 20 years later, I visited with my daughter (not shown). On the right, Gaston returns with his daughter. Life comes around!
Betty’s Rising Star
Any friend of our family—or Betty’s family—knows that she is incredibly artistic. She has always been oozing with talent. Regardless of the medium, painting and sculpture are second nature to her. In France, she became a sensation—living and working there for more than 20 years.
But recently, Betty divorced and moved back to Chicago. Eventually, she started a summer arts camp for children in Wisconsin. I am certain that she would have renewed many projects with Mom, but my mother died of Ovarian cancer years ago. That chapter has ended for all time.
Betty continues to thrive as an artist. She paints murals and is constantly offered private commissions to paint a specific thing—or for a special occasion. With rising stature and prolific output, she is doing well.
Poignant and Affective
Now that you have the background, here is a very short story. It’s more about me than it is about Betty. If you’re into happy endings, you may want to wait for the unwritten epilogue. This one is filled with happy memories, but very sad as it reaches present day. That’s because the happy memories may be only in the past.
Today, I experienced a pang of nostalgia and a terrible emptiness. To empathize or console, click to enlarge the photo collage and look closely at each image…
Photos in the top row were taken 36 years ago. Bottom photos were taken today. This was my kitchen table for all but eight of those 36 years. It got lots of use, even after it was replaced in our kitchen. But now, I can’t bear to look at it. It sings out too many happy memories. Memories of the past. Memories that overwhelm my constitution.
Top Row (May 1983): Mom took the 3 photos in the top row. Betty is customizing an expandable table with a mural for my new home. Flowers and birds line up perfectly, with or without the expansion leaf. Just as with this ostrich egg, Betty’s Escher-like talent can wrap an illustration around a surface and lock it back onto itself like a jigsaw puzzle. »
Bottom Row (August 2019): The bottom row shows the table being loaded onto a dumpster in front of my home. It saw its last meal a few months ago. Now, I am divorced and alone. My daughter has just left for college on the other coast. She is 2,700 miles away and the home is just too filled with stuff to sell, rent—or even to continue using on my own. I need to downsize. And to be honest, the happy memories of the past are too painful for this table too stay so close to me.
In 2011, I flew across the country to care for my ailing father. Back home, my wife remodeled the kitchen and bought a new glass table. Since then, Betty’s beautiful table has lived in our cellar. But, even after we separated, it came upstairs frequently—as if it wanted to be sat at and used. I have dragged it up and re-assembled it whenever we had a cookout, when my daughter operated a lemonade stand, and even after my wife left the nest. She occasionally borrowed it for an event of her own. I was happy to loan it to her. After all, Betty and this table have been a silent part of our lives for so long.
But now, it is time to shed a tear and say good bye.
This was a grand table. Just like the love for my daughter, it is still sturdy and functional. I love it and I will miss it. Even though the choice is mine, I cried as I took it out to a dumpster to become buried in a landfill of rubbish. Just like people, it will eventually return to its organic roots.
No one will ever sit at this table again. No one will ever eat at it. No one will ever think of Betty, when they gaze at the beautiful art—except, perhaps, in this sad story.
I wonder how Betty is doing today? I wonder if she ever thinks of Mom. I wonder if she will ever see this article. I may see Betty again, but once the dumpster is picked up, I will never again see Betty’s beautiful table. Perhaps, you will shed a tear with me. I just don’t know if I did the right thing.
I considered including a photo of my daughter’s princess wand next to my Halloween wig. But for now, I cannot bear to share it. Wig and Wand at the top of a box in a trash dumpster—too much to deal with.
The dumpster will be at my home for 10 days, as I sweep out a lifetime of memories—mostly happy ones. Why am I sad?