Grandpa Bill and Grand-daughter Ursala share a moment of laughter and dance - May 2005

In 2005, I experienced the “empty nest syndrome” –  Something that most Americans experience.  Indigenous cultures around the world do not experience this unnatural thing because of several factors, one being economics, another being cultural values and the other being that there really is no where else to truly be except where your parents or relatives live.   (Yes, you can sure see that I am opinionated as I use the word “unnatural” in this context.)   But who am I to talk?  I left  my hometown of Juneau 17 years ago.  I yearned for a drier climate; I wanted a break from the hustle-bustle of our crazy lifestyle.  I wanted out of Juneau since I graduated from high school but never made it out until 1993.  And although I returned every year to be with my parents, I moved away until recently.  I had no idea I would be away for so long.

Ursala at 5 years old....

When my last child left home, even though I had always established my art business career and I had a “separate” identity, I still felt the empty nest; on the outside I seemed normal and okay – on the inside, there was a silent struggle groping in the darkness of aloneness.  I always had the purpose of care-taking as one of my job descriptions.  I was one of those mothers that really didn’t want her kids to leave home.  I knew there was a wide, blue world out there and they were ready to experience it,  and I wasn’t about to keep them from it.  Yet, I had hoped they would someday return home (especially once they had children of their own).  The following is an essay my youngest, Ursala, had written for her Senior year’s English class…on the eve of her flying the coop.   Most every detail is ever true.  Her essay is titled:  “Solid Blonde Oak”

“The mother smiles to herself as she wipes the crumbs from her antique oak table.  She thinks back to the night she brought the table home as her family gift, finally paying the $1200 layaway charge.  Of course, she hardly expected a spectacular dinner that night, long ago; the food stamps barely awarded them with brown rice and beans, and her husband annoyingly ranted about the cost of the table the entire meal.  Nonetheless satisfaction at her extravagant acquisition had overwhelmed her.  She sensed, even then, that the table would bring her happiness.

Four years later Seya demanded the table be put into her ’65 Ford truck, to be taken down to the Land of Enchantment with her other possessions.  A new baby would sit with a bare bottom on the smooth, varnished wood, and feel the coolness radiating into her chubby fingers.  She would smear her drool into the cracks with her palms, innocently inconsiderate of the others who would eat there later that night.  This baby felt the power of the blonde, wooden life beneath her.  Seya marveled at her daughter silently from across the room; a sense of fulfillment overwhelmed her in knowing that her baby, too, understood the importance of this treasure.  This new baby gave her the answer to complete the mystery.  Every night from then on, Seya would force her husband and three children to eat together, around her table, to keep her family strong and wise.

In the earliest days of her completed family the eldest children would sit politely as they downed their vegetarian food and listened to their parents converse, correcting false accusations when needed.  The youngest would sneer at her vegetables, then escape under the table to slightly drown out the conversations she didn’t understand.  Seya demanded her husband and children’s presence at every dinner, no matter how whiney and obnoxious they became.  The dinner table provided a nightly unity.

Friends would come frequently to enjoy the connections provided by a dinner with the Hudson’s, in the dim light of candles.  Extra leaves were needed to lengthen the table, to fit the numerous plates and utensils, or perhaps the musical instruments.  The nights’ inspiration brought songs of the strong friendship the family could offer, and a pre-meal “yum hum” soon became a tradition brought from a traveling friend.  Soon every guest knew to “yum” the food for the Hudson blessing.  Yelling and laughter would shake the wood beneath their plates as many acquaintances were gained and lost.  Friends brought other friends, and other friends brought more friends, making it rare for a night of a pure family time.  Even so, the family met together each night no matter how many guests, and their bond continued to strengthen day by day.

The table bound them together, a kiva, a place of gathering.  No outside source would interrupt—no phone, no reading during the meal, no background music—dinner meant a time to enjoy one another around the table.  The five of them talked of life and of death, of science and of fiction, of love and of hate.  Learning became a part of eating; the sharing of each other’s individual lives helped one another grow independently.  Seya didn’t know that self-sufficiency grew inside each family member from the tight connection she demanded of them.

The eldest child grew into a teenager.  Against his mother’s authority, he began to give up dinner with his family to spend late nights out with friends.  Seya began to feel his absence with an ache in her heart, and on the nights when he chose to ditch out, she’d make her husband and the remaining two daughters feel the void too, with silence and empty eyes. Although she began to face the facts that her son would soon leave the household, many harsh words escaped from her mouth towards him in attempt to keep him home during the family meal.  He refused to give in to her guilt trips and bribes.  Soon he left home to gain an education, away from his family and their nightly tradition.

Before long, the distressed mother felt it an endless battle to force perfect attendance upon the remaining family members.  The middle child grew up too, and rarely joined them for dinner.  Her husband often skipped out to work late at the office, and soon she began to fear that even the youngest child would find excuses to eat elsewhere.  She felt the family tradition crumble beneath her, and cried as she worked by herself in her cold, quiet studio.  In the dark of the kitchen the wood of her treasure aged alone in the night, abandoned by a family tradition.

Wrinkles now highlight her smiling eyes, the bun in her hair now limp and dense with grey hairs.  She places a clean, yellow cloth onto the old, creaky table, and rubs it smooth with fingers which now seem to endlessly ache.  Her family of five will unite again tonight for the first time in four years, and she knows that each of them, too, often feel the yearning to gather once more.  Many nights they spend dinners with quiet families, in lonely homes, and it is time to be home.  Again they will share laughter and sighs, teaching and learning, friendship and family.  The worn wood will rattle and the legs will creak from the weight of five, and it will give all it can to this reunited family, merely to make Mamma happy.”

Copyright  – Ursala Hudson – August 2005