Hiding Under the Table

Family friends Elaine and Tony are due to see our new kitchen for the first time since returning from Florida a couple of weeks ago. They are always a bright presence in our lives, and especially in our home. Since they head down to Florida for the winter, if they’re here it means that spring and summer are on the way. This Saturday we’ll be hosting them and my parents, and I can’t wait.

I can almost smell the blown-out candles now. That’s always been the scent of happiness – signifying the end of a special meal with family or friends. As a child, it meant we just had an event that merited candle-light and dining-room settings. The kitchen would be filled with the bustling of dishes being rinsed and loaded, and the banter and laughter of family. My brother and I would spy from other rooms, darker rooms where we could disappear as kids, watching and playing and avoiding the adults as much as we were fascinated by them.

To this day, the smell of a blown-out candle inspires a giddy little thrill. Mostly, it reminds me of my Uncle Roberto, who would often be present at those rare evenings when we brought out the fine china and assembled in the formal dining room. (Usually we ate around the small kitchen table.) Dinner was a chance to listen in to adult talk, and to occasionally hear a conversation in Tagalog – a rare treat for us – but really it was just a waiting period before slipping under the table and ultimately escaping between the cherry legs of chairs. Sometimes we thought the adults didn’t notice us, sometimes we knew they did, sometimes we’d get yelled at, and sometimes we got out without reprimand. It was a tenuous, tacit agreement between us kids and the adults, strained at times, but not wholly without fun and childish amusement.

These days we have a different kind of fun, and my niece and nephew are the ones who hide under the table. I’m the adult Uncle, more concerned with grown-up conversation than disappearing into the imagined world of a kid, but every now and then I’ll excuse myself, answering the pleas of Noah or Emi to play chase, and suddenly I’ll be back three decades ago.

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