Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Dessert Waltz

I had dinner with my family the other night. Sixteen of us in my parents' little house. The six grandkids sat squashed around a small table under the dining room window while we four grown kids and our spouses and mom and dad crowded around the table that in my childhood comfortably sat six.

Joyful chaos ensued--multiple simultaneous conversations, kids being loud and nutty, references from movies, family jokes, singing, laughing and the occasional, “Ok, that’s enough!” from one parent or another when the kids got TOO loud. At one point, I accidentally sent some of my salad sailing behind me onto the floor. Only my husband noticed and we laughed at my coordination issues while the din swirled around us.

The kids finished eating first and five of the six, all ages 6-9, escaped the dining room for the playroom downstairs. The eleven-year-old planted herself on her mom’s lap: one more around my childhood table.

Next came dessert. Mom brought out a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a cake for all the fall family birthdays, a pot of regular coffee, a pot of decaf, a can of whipped cream and a carton of half and half.

With no plan, no instructions, we took up items and began to serve one another. I poured decaf. My husband poured regular. My sister-in-law cut pumpkin pie, my sister the cake. For a few moments, out of the seeming disorder emerged a beautiful dance.

“This is for you, Jen,” I said passing coffee. She passed pie to my brother-in-law. “This is for Thor.” “Can I have an interior piece of cake?” asked my brother. “This one’s for Dad,” said Kathy. “Who needs the half and half?” asked my dad.

There is a scene in The Fisher King, my favorite movie of all time, when the bustling crowds of Grand Central Station suddenly coalesce into a choreographed waltz. It is a breathtaking moment. I got this same sensation as the dessert was passed. Conversations continued, laughter rang out, hands reach across the table above and below other outstretched hands. For a time the sense of communion was beautiful and complete.

As in The Fisher King the moment passed and the jumble resumed. But when I left that place and headed home, I was elated. I imagined Bilbo Baggins intoning, “Dwarves have a strange notion of perfection,” and I thought, “Let me be a dwarf, then, because THAT was a perfect evening.”

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