Once, before a party, M brought home a stack of chipped white plates of varying patterns and designs. He got them from the Free (Not Table) Table that used to stand season after season down the road. It was a well-stocked Free (Not Table) Table. A large house behind it spewed refreshed stock every few days. You could almost always be sure to find a Latin dictionary from 1936, a cheese grater, a moldy doll or a metal tea pot. And plates. An overwhelming family with a large appetite must have lived there long ago, because plates outnumbered by far all other treasures.
The woman who owned the house and the Free (Not Table) Table died and the house managed one last cleanse – an auction held on the front lawn under tents. You would not have guessed the house could hold so many bulky items of furniture. I didn’t see any plates at the auction but we only stopped for a few minutes because by that time we had children, young children who wanted to touch everything they saw, children for whom an auction was an opportunity for a tactile experience hitherto unknown. I looked at all that stuff and only saw a pile of rubble accomplished by my offspring. So we fled.
We no longer have our free plates. We graduated to grownup plates that look like a sunny afternoon in Mexico, plates that came with matching bowls and coffee cups. Plates that have earned their own chips and scratches. I miss our worn, white plates sometimes. Or I miss those sweet years of just him and me, making do. When a stop at the Free (Not Table) Table was a useful weekly event and if we wanted to we could spend entire Saturdays reading books and nibbling cheese and apple slices off our plates that came to us with very little effort or decision. I love and adore my children, but these days are different. The Free (Not Table) Table is gone, and so is most of the quiet. I’m betting one day I’ll think it too quiet. I’ll miss the days of my own voracious family who smashes crockery in fits of exuberant accident. Like the other night when I dropped a plate of steaming hamburgers on my way out the porch door.
Plates smash. Quiet rooms are disrupted. Freedom is relative.