There were some things that couldn't be fixed, no matter what you tried to do. Cracks showed in fine china and tarnish took forever to wipe away. But with effort some things could be fixed, perhaps not made perfect, but made better. This table was a fine example of something broken that with hard work and effort, had been made almost-new again. The table, the chairs, the plates, the tablecloth – and the people.
The chairs didn't match the table. Not perfectly, anyway – the table was mahogany and the chairs were ash. The chairs had been found in a pile at a swap meet, nothing spectacular about them, only the promise of hard work. The table was near a hundred years old and the chairs were only seventy. Over a hot, steamy Maryland summer, Dean and Michael had sanded, mended, shaved and restored each one with a painstaking effort. The summation of long Saturdays drinking lemonade and watching as, one by one, each chair took on most of its former glory. Clothes stained with finish and hair full of sawdust. But there was more than backbreaking work and countless hours poured into the chairs. They were a foundation of a relationship that would grow stronger in time. A foundation that Dean had never had, never knew he wanted. When he and Michael were done, six chairs stood proudly around a mahogany table that had lost its chairs in a fire.
The table had been in a garage when the house it first belonged to burned down. Refinished and polished, the Coulters found it at an auction. The first owners hadn't wanted it anymore – they deemed it worthless without its chairs. Who wanted a table without matching chairs? The dark wood fit perfectly with the chairs – though it took hours to stain the chairs to match. When the chairs and table stood together, complete for the first time on a sunny Sunday in September, the three Coulters covered it with a bed-sheet for a tablecloth and sat down to a dinner of over-glorified macaroni and cheese and salad. It might not be the grandest of meals – but the dining room now stood complete, and they couldn't stand to let it alone that first night.
The lace tablecloth that adorned the table this holiday was, like the table and chairs, an effort. Elisa found the stained and nearly ruined cloth at the Goodwill. A long time mending and a lot of bleach later, and it was perfect. Yes, her fingers had hurt from the task, making it that harder for her to talk, but it was, as she called it, a labor of love.
The china was an assortment of six different sets – though all had silver bands. They rarely used the full place settings anyway, so what did it matter that the soup bowls had thick bands of silver and blue and the salad plates just had a thin silver band with pink and a pink flower in the center?
Dean did notice that the silverware all matched. Elisa had explained that she'd actually picked the pattern out when she was his age – eleven – and well, during all that time, people just used events to start to fill in all the place settings. It was called Buttercup – and he could see why she liked it. It was a cheerful pattern to look at – and it sort of reminded him of her.
The three people who sat around the table didn't match either – not completely. Sort of like the china. He and Elisa had been born deaf – Michael had become deaf after an illness and could still hear a little, with the help of hearing aides. He'd been born in Kansas, the two of them were both from Virginia. Michael had brown eyes, Elisa had blue and he had green. Nothing about them seemed to fit together, but sitting here, at a table decked out like it was Christmas dinner – even though that was last month, it somehow felt right. It felt like family.
Dean stared down at the eleven glowing candles on his birthday cake – his first real birthday cake since he turned four and thought about what he could possibly wish for – that he could possibly need. In that moment, he knew – he knew what he wanted. I want this year to be just as good as last year – and maybe, maybe a little better. He leaned forward and blew out all the candles, looking up at Michael and Elisa – dad and mom – and grinned at the silent applause.
Like the table, the chairs, the cloth, the people and the china – everything but the silver had been stitched together the best as it was possible to create what was here now. Not perfect, but according to him - this was just about as close to perfect as you could get. The silver could be the foundation – the only matching thing in this mismatched family. Sort of like deafness – because in this family, the inability to hear was never, never, going to be considered a handicap.