Sometimes I feel like my family is falling apart.

I comfort myself by skimming Mother’s Bible, one I gave her a few years ago, where she underlined some of the Psalms and Proverbs with red pencil.

Mother  occasionally added a family members’ initials, if the verse applied.  Interesting reading (?!).

Proverbs 12:7  was not underlined, but caught my attention: “…the family of the godly stands firm.”

I wonder if that’s a promise of God.  Our family’s pastor Leith Anderson once said, “If God said it, you can take it to the bank.”

Today, I’m not feeling it.

Juicy details:  none.  The same crap you’re dealing with: the death of parents and friends, job stress, major health issues, etc etc etc.  Big things.  Then the smaller things pile up: the deer just ate all the flowers I planted or Duane’s plantar fasciitis won’t heal.   A few families on Facebook do seem to have it all together.

I wonder how people cope, who don’t have loving family memories, like I do.  Remembering a picnic our family shared at Lake Cornelia Park in 1985, gives my mind a vacation from hard times.

Or I imagine myself standing in the kitchen of the house on Abbott Avenue, back in 1971.  I was a sophomore in high school then.  It’s a weeknight evening.

“Quick, get the tablecloth on!”  Mother flies into the kitchen from her bedroom.

The pound of ground beef for tomato soup casserole isn’t browning in the frying pan yet, but Mother’s plan to make it look like supper is imminent is to have the kitchen table set.  That meant a tablecloth.   Tablecloths weren’t only for company.   Every night the six of us: Dad, Mother, Wendy, Jennifer, Pam and me, ate dinner squeezed around a small kitchen table covered with a cloth.  Even on picnics or vacation, Mother always spread a tablecloth.

The most famous family tablecloth was green and covered with blooming white magnolias.  I don’t know where Mother got it or if she inherited it.  One hundred percent cotton, it could be thrown in the washer and then the dryer, without wrinkling. Mother ironed white linen tablecloths for Thanksgiving, Christmas and special company.  This tablecloth didn’t need it.

The cloth became a family vacation fixture, in spite of:

  1.  Mother’s favorite color wasn’t green.  She was more partial to gold, the color of our gingham kitchen wallpaper.  This cloth was a dark drab green, with white (magnolias) and brown (stems and centers).  Green/white/brown; yuck.
  2. Our dishes didn’t match the tablecloth.   The ‘everyday’ Stangl ‘Fruit’ pattern Mother chose featured cherries, peaches and grapes.  Back in that day, white dishes, which would have worked with it, weren’t popular.

Anyway, that family tablecloth covered our table, every night, at whichever duplex we rented, in Ocean City, New Jersey, year after year on summer vacations.

In the summer of 1980, six months after Mike was born, Duane and I joined Mother and Dad, along with the sisters who could make it, to 2126 Wesley Avenue, our four bedroom apartment in Ocean City.  Ocean City!  America’s Family Vacation Paradise!  That’s what it had always been to me.

I should have lowered my expectations.  My parents were wonderful parents, but they spent their days on the beach when I was expecting them to help with the baby so I could go to the beach.  Duane and Dad went off and played tennis at the public courts in the morning.  I was left alone at the apartment, to be there while Michael napped, or needed to be fed, or cried.  My toes hardly touched the sand.  Nights were worse.  Because we shared a bedroom with a six month old baby, no one got much sleep.  Mike’s nighttime schedule was a mess for the next year.

But I still treasure that great picture of Dad, sharing life with Mike over the green magnolia tablecloth.

Our family continued our treks to Ocean City, with the magnolia tablecloth.  In  2008, after our grandson Ethan was born, Duane and I rented a huge four bedroom duplex at 19th street, overlooking the Boardwalk.  Mother, Dad, Duane and I, Jeff and Heather, Mike and Elizabeth, and Jennifer shared a place where family dinners also included the six Sathers, staying nearby.   The adult girls of each family took turns coordinating and preparing dinner for 15 people each night.  Every fourth night, we ordered Mack and Manco pizza. Spots of tomato sauce stained the white magnolias.

After dinner we’d head to ‘walk the Boards’. Then with tired legs we arrived back to plop on chairs around the same table, to play games.  We’d compare stories of the treats we found on the Boardwalk, which, according to family rules, no one had to share.  Except for the Johnson Brothers caramel corn in plastic buckets, which we ate til we felt sick.

“It’s your vacation, you can do what you want,” was one of Mother’s quotes.  That freedom made vacationing with our family easy and fun.

The family began to grow and change, with weddings, new girlfriends/boyfriends, new jobs, work moves, and grandchildren. It was getting harder to gather around the green magnolia tablecloth for family vacations.  So I would use it at home when family visited.

One year we were able to get most of the family together at a beach house outside Jacksonville.

The tablecloth was getting more worn and moth eaten, but it still meant the family was gathered for fun.


Now it’s nearly impossible to gather everyone in the family around that tablecloth, to share dinner,  with games afterwards. Mike and Elizabeth are here in Tampa with Ethan and Sophie, but Jeff and Heather, along with Addi and Henry, live in Jacksonville.   Wendy’s three girls are married; Kate and Marc live in New Jersey with their three children: Oliver, George and brand new baby Violet. Lee and John teach English and live in, literally, China, with son and daughter Harry and Eloise.  Sarah and Julian live in West Palm Beach.  Jennifer’s daughter Maggie works in Boulder, Colorado.  Pam and Greg live in Jacksonville, while sons Peter, Andrew and Tommy are scattered around Florida, with Jack in Chicago.

I’m realizing that each family, as it changes and grows, has to start its own vacation and family traditions.

But the sisters decided we can still get together.   Pam joined Wendy, Jennifer and me for a weekend at the condo Duane and I own in Indian Rocks Beach.  We arrived with our suitcases full since the January weather was cool, and we knew Wendy would be there.  She’s a fashionista, so the bar was set high.  Pam, a style maven herself, forgot to pack half of her clothes.

We ate stone crabs and talked at Salt Rock Grill Wednesday night, then stayed up too late talking.  Thursday morning over coffee we read verses to each other from Mother’s Bible.  We walked the beach while talking.  We soaked up the sun; I’m the only one who wears sunscreen.  We gave each other piles of advice, all unsolicited.  We watched “Leave It To Beaver” reruns Thursday afternoon, with Wendy commenting on June’s excellent choice of ‘statement’ jewelry.  We ate steaks at E & E Stakeout Thursday night and talked, and talked, and talked.

Friday afternoon, when our ‘sister time’ was over, Duane and Greg joined Pam and me at the condo with a few of the Sather boys.  I pulled out the green magnolia tablecloth for dinner.

“The tablecloth!”  Pam exclaimed.  It meant something special to her, too.

The green magnolia tablecloth stands for family and happy memories of us being together.   It reminds me of Mother and Dad and  how much they loved being with us.  We’re not perfect, and even the happy memories of the times around that tablecloth are a bit sugar coated, when I start remembering specifics.  But we love each other.

Mother taught, “It’s people that are important, not things.”  That is true.

But I’m glad I still have that green magnolia tablecloth.

“Be still my soul: thy God doth undertake to guide the future, as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last.”

– Katharina A. von Schlegel, 1752




1 Comment

  1. This post literally brought tears to my eyes! So beautiful and well written! Jill, thank you! Thank you for remembering and sugar coating! I absolutely love the optimist in you and aspire to be like you in this! I have learned that even amidst the pain and sorrow there is always a way to love, always a way to smile, and always a way to reach out and connect with people! Thank you for this much needed reminder tonight! (I know I use way too many exclamation marks. I’m not yelling.)

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