On the kitchen table…
Sunflowers… Bright, yellow, perfectly spaced, their pellets almost touching as if reaching out to each other. Together they exist in quiet harmony, aware of their neighbours’ presence, but blooming boastfully on their own. Knowing in the fact that they represent beauty in their togetherness, but also flaunting it in their singleness…
They rested on a magnificent blue background – the colour of royalty, proudly presenting the golden splashes of yellow all over. Like stars in the evening sky, twinkling and transforming the dark. Like yellow submarines, dancing on the waves of the deep, blue ocean. Fleeting moments reflecting life – vast and mysterious with specks of hope all over.
It was a home-made table cloth, made from the cheapest material. There was nothing glamorous about it. Like most of the possessions in the humble home on the farm where I grew up. It was stitched together by my mother’s course fingers, a needle, some yarn and a lot of love as she always told us.
To other people it would have looked like an ordinary tablecloth. Perhaps something fitting for the kitchen table of a farm family barely getting by. The sunflowers were doubtless brighter than what is to be expected of good material cloth. You only had to touch the fabric to discover the poor thread count. And to really add to the rustic look was sheet of plain plastic, covering the whole table. “A big family is a messy family and a messy family is a happy family”. We had lots of sayings like that - ones that didn’t come from the outside world, but rather showed our own family rules. Those rules were very different from what society and etiquette stipulated. Don’t get me wrong, my mother worked very hard to keep our home spotless. But she allowed and sometimes encouraged us to be messy and have fun – especially around the kitchen table. Some messes are worth cleaning up she would say when I complained about it.
My mother was particularly fond of her sunflower tablecloth; therefore she preferred to protect it with the plastic sheet. This means we got to look at it every day as part of the permanent items in the kitchen, rather than it being a “special occasion” piece.
At first, I hated the table-cloth. Its scorching colours reminded me of everything about my life that I also hated. The extra-long, faded school skirt I had to wear to school. The fact that my father was just a poor farmer; not a lawyer or a doctor or something glamorous. And the difficult reality that nothing in my life could ever measure up to what my classmates seemed to have.
Sometimes when we sat around the table, I would look at my family silently wishing for another one, feeling that I belonged somewhere else, somewhere better. The yellow flowers would start melting together as tears forced their way out of my eyes. Suddenly it would become one big sun, burning in the sky, like a ball of fire. I could see its wicked mouth turning into a grin and then laughing deep out of its throat at the absurdity of my thoughts. Knowing just like me that I wasn’t worth anything more than the family I was born into.
I don’t know why things changed. It was an ordinary afternoon, at our ordinary kitchen table in my ordinary life. My baby sister was making a big mess while eating. My mother and father were laughing at something my brother said. I was feeling left out and alone. A sunbeam started making its way across the table towards me. In a single moment the ordinary became extraordinary. The tablecloth transformed in front of my eyes. What seemed excessive and tasteless turned into expressive, distinctive and rare wonder. In those moments it was as if Van Gogh himself took a paintbrush and added the finishing touches to an unfinished portrait.
When I looked up, I saw things differently. My father was not a poor farmer, but a proud, hard-working, honourable man who gets up every morning at dawn, working hard to provide for his family. My mother did not look old and run-down anymore, but beautiful and soft, her eyes shining with love when she looks at her family. My sister and my brother were laughing together, looking happier and more content than a lot of my friends who were in seemingly better situations.
My heart swelled with feelings of gratitude and pride. I was part of a masterpiece after all. It was captured in every moment we laughed together, in the pain which we endured together, in the love that is lacking in so many other homes.
It was painted on our kitchen table…