Prose, Grades 10-12: First Place

The Family Table — Raleigh Kibort

It is fundamentally unchanged. It is wholly different. It remains. The enormous cherry-wood table set with finely painted china, three types of spoons and sporadic crayon-drawn interpretations of the season. Somehow both remarkably intimidating and welcoming, it manages to straddle the delicate balance of conversations about to take place: those of hospital strikes and current events, of elderly gossip and preschool curriculums. They span the generations in predictable ways. Babies, Bar Mitzvahs, weddings. Funerals.

The faces change, of course. Brothers who used to wrestle before dessert have long since moved on to law school. Doe-eyed baby girls will soon be practicing medicine. Children have had children who are having children. The matriarch’s aging fingers sometimes slip as she chops dill and barley for the soup, though it tastes just as incredible as it always has. The beloved patriarch is a memory now, his gentle presence now manifesting in pre-meal prayers and post-meal tears. As the years continue without much regard for those who occupy the impeccably-set table, sometimes glancing around the dining room seems to reveal strangers rather than family.

And yet, it remains.

The food. Of course, the food. The whispering steam that appears on top of the soup as it makes its way to each place setting. The sting of the horseradish on the sweet fish. The brisket so tender you can practically taste the hours of preparation being melted into the meat. The sparkling sugar on top of the apple cake and the fullness of stomachs when not another bite can be taken, but five more are consumed.

Between bites and the involuntary “oohs” they catalyze, there are conversations. There is ridiculous formality and stark frivolities in the discussions: Is it truly possible to find peace in countries thousands of miles away? In ourselves? How does one move past a heartbreaking divorce/miscarriage/loss? And for the last time, is she a vegetarian or not?

The smell of the peach soap in the bathroom. The office door that isn’t opened because it’s just too damn painful, containing countless memories of a man who is no longer around. The hilarity of the portraits from the eighties, the nineties, and, okay, five years ago. They are details, yes. Snapshots. Bits and pieces. But when shoved into the framework that makes up our lives over time, they outline something much deeper. They show overwhelming, all encompassing, unending compassion. Understanding of differences. Love.

It remains.