Her parents’ cruel words, punctuated by the slamming of the door, still rang in Julie’s ears, and her heart cried out, “Why can’t you just get along the way you used to?”
Now that her mom had left for work, Julie’s dad would be lying down, tired after working a 12 hour shift. The nine year old grabbed some Pop-Tarts to eat on the way to school, and got herself out the door. Seeing her best friend a few steps away, she lifted her chin and willed herself to smile.
Kami was already chattering away. “…and I brought some for you, too! Last night Mama made lasagna. It was so-o-o…” Julie didn’t have to hear anymore. She’d seen it herself more than once. Kami’s whole family would sit down at the table for dinner – together. They would talk and eat and laugh. Nobody would get mad or yell. Every time she was there, it was just the same. Perfect.
She remembered a pretty plaque hanging on the wall. It read “The kitchen is the heart of the home.” Kami’s mother had seen her looking at it.
“That’s a phrase my gramma used to say all the time,” she told her. The feel of the woman’s gentle hands squeezing her shoulders was nice, but Julie didn’t dare say what she was thinking. How could she tell Mrs. Briscoe that this home was nothing like her own?
Her mind refused to let go of that phrase, though. “The kitchen is the heart of the home, huh?” Julie didn’t think so. Her house had a kitchen, but there was no heart in it.
It took a while, but Julie finally figured it out. “It must mean the table, because that’s the only thing Kami’s kitchen has that ours doesn’t.” Julie remembered having a big table set at their old house, but some strangers came and bought it before they moved here. The new kitchen only had a breakfast bar, but since everybody ate at different times, it worked out fine. Even if everybody was home, they mostly ate in front of the TV, and conversation was not welcome unless there was a commercial on. “Maybe if we had a kitchen table, things would be different.”
That’s when Julie began her campaign. Every weekend, she searched for furniture sales in the newspaper. Then she would circle the prettiest table set and put the ad on top of her dad’s laptop or in her mom’s briefcase. After 2 weeks, nothing came of that, so she tried something else.
Holding the paper high, and rattling it a little to be sure Mom was listening, Julie commented, “Wow, that’s a nice kitchen set.” Then she would read the description aloud. “It has a… ped--a--stal base? … and comes with four chairs. You choose pecan or oak finish. And, you can pay by VISA, MasterCard, or 90 days same as cash. Delivery is available for a small additional charge.”
Aside from getting strange looks from her parents, that strategy also failed.
Julie was becoming resigned to the sad truth – her family would never have a kitchen table, and their home would never have a heart. The day her parents turned the TV set off and set her down in the living room, Julie was sure she did not want to hear whatever they were about to say.
Her dad sat down next to her mom before he began. “Julie, Mom and I have been talking. We know things haven’t been pleasant around here lately. After I lost my job, I wasn’t able to find another good one. That’s why your mom went back to work, but it hasn’t been very easy for any of us.”
Julie’s face paled and her mind filled with fear and sadness, until she realized that her parents were holding hands and smiling.
Then her mom continued. “Daddy’s old company called him back to work today. We both agree that I need to be here more, so I’ll be quitting my job soon. We don’t expect you to understand it all, but soon, this little house should begin to feel more like a home.”
The welcome news put the smile back on Julie’s face and brought her to her feet, but Mom wasn’t finished yet. “You probably don’t remember, but I used to be a pretty good cook. I’ll be home to fix proper meals now, so what would you think about helping me pick out a new kitchen table?”
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