Jill Talbot’s column, The Last Year, traces the moments before her daughter leaves for college. It has run every Friday this month, and will return for a month each in the winter, spring, and summer. The next installment will arrive the first Friday of January.
My mother bought the kitchen table in 1969. It’s dark maple, four chairs, their backs a row of five slats. The etchings of my math homework mark the wood, but the busiest scratches cover the space between my parents’ seats, like the ghosts of all they passed across the table and what they must have said. My mother always sat across from me, my father to my left, and eventually my daughter, Indie, sat across from my father. When he died suddenly in 2017, my mother sat in her chair at the table calling friends, one by one, to tell them he was gone. I don’t remember eating at the table after that. On the morning after my mother’s funeral a little over a year later, I sat in my chair at the table writing checks, paying her bills, signing her name.
In January, Indie and I left my parents’ house for the last time. A house built when I was nine, in 1979. I remember walking through it when it was only a concrete slab and a fireplace. That afternoon, as I moved to stand in the door of each room, I kept saying thank you as if my parents were there, as if they could hear me. All the furniture and the décor was still intact, the way I wanted to remember the house. Indie and I packed up my childhood bedroom suite, my father’s chair, his cherrywood stereo console, boxes of my mother’s belongings, her two white suitcases (a high school graduation present from 1963), and the kitchen table. Left the rest for the estate sale. When I closed the back door for the last time, I was forty-nine. Indie considered it her childhood home, too, the only one that had been consistent throughout her life. She was sixteen.
Yesterday, for the first time since we had moved the kitchen table into our apartment, she and I sat down to eat at it. It had taken us ten months. Indie stood with a hand on the back of her chair and asked, “How do the seats work here?” I set down the placemats: “We sit where we always sat.”
In 2007, when we moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma, Indie was five. Back then, her bright blonde bob was always tousled. She had her own room in the duplex I rented, but she never slept in it. For four years, she slept close to me on the futon a friend had given us on his way out of town. The day I signed the lease on the hood of the manager’s truck, she looked over at the front door and muttered something about the past tenants, a brick through the front window. Later, Indie picked up half a brick in the yard, and for as long as we lived there, we’d find the glass, piece after piece.