A Shelter, Indeed
“Go ahead, Mom, read yours,” I said, as the Boggle game timer dinged. Our separate lists of words competed with each other.
“Shelter,” she said. “That’s four points.”
“How’d you get ‘shelter’?” I challenged, looking across the kitchen table at the scrambled vowels and consonants.
Bent fingers glided across the letters. She was right and her list of words trumped mine once again.
In my mother’s kitchen, it wasn’t just about the food – it was about the words. Words spoken around this small table where secrets were whispered, good news shared, wisdom imparted. The table holds within it memories of a lifetime of visits, of family, of broken hearts, of friends. New babies bouncing on laps, children kneeling on chairs dropping cinnamon hearts into warm applesauce as it squished through the strainer. Widows trying to find their way. Teenagers attempting to do the same. All of us digging our toes in the proverbial sand, finding our place, murmuring the word “home.” If I’m quiet enough and I gently rest my ear upon the table, I can almost hear the voices.
I long for those voices as I sort through cabinets, clearing them out for the next family destined to fill this kitchen with their own words. Newlyweds whispering of want. Babies babbling. Teenagers voicing rebellion. Word games played, vocabulary lists reviewed, letters written.
I have dreams for this kitchen, for this home. My life has, in one way or another, revolved around this place. My words were born here – some mimicked and some surely my own. I learned to speak here, to spell, to write. My first poem was penned at this table when I was barely old enough to put words to paper.
My father, gone for over thirty years now, left his impact in this house through the words he’d spoken. Sometimes, they were stern, reproving. Other times, instructive. Often, they swelled with forgiveness and grace. His words resound as I whip up an omelet.
“It’s in the wrist,” he taught me. Every time, whether here or across the state in my adult home, I hear his words as I twirl the fork swiftly through the yellow foam, and I’m transported, with regret, to a time and place when my younger mind quickly rejected many of his words.
Now, with my mother gone, it’s time to part with this place – the childhood home I never outgrew, the walls ever expanding to welcome new folks into the fold. Even as I look out the front door, the street calls to me with memories of bicycle rides and walks in the rain; of running to the corner to meet my best friend. There were birthday parties and sleepovers. Missed curfews and subsequent groundings.
I look out the kitchen window and see my prepubescent cousin and me crossing the backyard in our pajamas midday, the summer breeze carrying our giggles ahead of us. I remember my mother’s words as she phoned my aunt for an explanation. In that same backyard, I see picnics and badminton games, croquet and cookouts. I see my mother lounging in the sun, the newest best seller on her lap, bed sheets flapping in the wind. I hear laughter, conversation, and storytelling. All around me I see and hear home.
It is said once a house is vacated by the people who lived there, it becomes merely a shell. I have to disagree, for this house whispers of tender moments and resounds with joyous laughter… a communion of those who were fortunate enough to spend time here within these precious walls.
Alone in the kitchen, I sit at the table, shake the Boggle cube and lift the lid. Blinking away tears, I start to write on my lone list: S-H-E-L-T-E-R.
“That’s four points, Mom,” I say. And just like that, I feel a warm embrace. A shelter indeed.
~ Hana Haatainen Caye
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A Shelter, Indeed and similar stories can be found in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: HOME SWEET HOME, available online and in stores now.
Award-winning writer, Hana Haatainen-Caye, changes hats often in the course of the day. Whether standing behind a microphone narrating a children’s book (as Maya Ray) or poring over books at the library as she researches her next biography for kids, she switches gears often. As an editor specializing in short stories and non-fiction, she’s edited countless stories for the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. She’s published close to 40 children’s books with Marvel’s iStorybooks, and is currently under contract for twelve more. Multi-published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, her 8th story in the series hits the shelves on August 19th.