Table for Six

My Grandfather’s lemon tree was quite a thing to behold. Its branches stretched in an outward curve towards the white fence, shading the span of his yard in its fragrant leaves. To this day, I cannot forget the pleasantness of that young tree. Bark soft to the touch and sprinkled sparingly with a few round buds that would eventually blossom into the acidic yellow fruit. I was far too small to climb it, so I took to squatting beneath its foliage, resting my back against the trunk with my feet pulled up to my chest.

I was fourteen the next time I saw my Grandfather. Ten years had passed and most everything about him remained the same. Don Corrales was still a short man with slight crinkling around his dark brown eyes; his hair, surprisingly, remained a deep black color. He stood before me the same as before, work boots permanently laced on his feet with his tanned hands clasped behind his back.

I could feel him watching cautiously as I pranced around his yard. “Ciudado,” he would murmur whenever he felt I was getting too rowdy.

His lemon tree was untouched by time as well, or so it seemed.

It wasn’t until I planted myself beneath it that I realized this was not the same tree at all. It was wider than I remembered, basking in the California sun, its branches weighted by the fully formed citrus, and the tangy scent wafting through the summer breeze. Time had treated the tree well. It was as if the tides of change had washed over it effortlessly.

At this point in my life, I should be immune to change. For the past nineteen years, my family and I have taken up residence in over eight different states. I’ve been through homes of many different molds, from sun-drenched Honolulu, Hawaii; to the murky marshlands of downtrodden Fort Polk, Louisiana; and a brief stint in the dry heat of El Paso, Texas.

My family and I have gone through periods of stagnation, five long lonely years stuck in Southern Louisiana, as well as rapid changes of scenery; three army bases in two years and another move in the works. It wasn’t until recently, a moment in a local restaurant in December to be exact, when an epiphany cast down on me like a shadow. In that unsuspecting moment I finally realize that everything I thought I had ever known about change became irrelevant.

The prospect of change is like a constant buzzing in my ears.  It is never too far away. I can always reach out and brush it with my fingertips: a new state, a new city, a new house and a new circle of acquaintances.  I have come to accept that my position in this world isn’t going to stay the same. It’s impossible to do so. There is no such thing as permanence. Shifting, adapting, and morphing are all simple facts of life. The children I went to school with were often times perplexed by my constant state of change.

“You mean you’re not going to stay here forever?” they would ask.

“You mean you’ve lived in the same house for all your life?” I would ask.

Whenever I think back on those moments, when someone is confused or even appalled by my indifference to change, I try to see things from their point of view. To those unsuspecting souls who have never known a home other than the one they grew up in, perhaps permanence is a sort of sacristy.

It is these same people who possess a familiarity that they won’t have to give up nor are they even aware of its existence. Their unshifting way of life is probably something that has been a part of their personas since birth. Maybe it’s what makes them who they are. 

Where I find myself to be impervious to the woes of permanency, they thrive on it. My life stretches out like the branches of a stout tree, while theirs is like a stagnant pool of lake water.

And yet I didn’t fully understand the meaning of change. Like an epiphany, enlightenment and a slap in the face all wrapped in one, the concept became clear to me when my family of five became a family of six. It did not strike me the day of my baby brother’s birth, however. Nor did it happen when we brought him home for the first time, his tiny frame bundled in the same blanket my mother had crocheted during her pregnancy with me.

It seems obvious that a sudden and abrupt change to the normalcy of everyday life would be enough to initiate a shift in perspective. But such was not the case simply because it felt like Alonso had always been there. The way he clutched his small hands to his chest, his thin hair and toothless grin all seemed so familiar. I was oblivious to the significant transformation of my family life. Finally, during a family dinner at a local burger joint on Christmas Eve, my unawareness felt altered.

My family entered the crowded restaurant hurriedly, huddled together to avoid the bitter winds that leaked through the front doors. The hostess approached us after some brief small talk amongst my shivering family members. My arms had grown tired from carrying my brother’s car seat. I could hear him faintly cooing from under the hood, anxious to get a look at his new surroundings.

“How many in your party?” questioned the hostess.

I was poised to give the answer that I was accustomed to, “Family of five please,” when she glanced down to the car seat I was lugging tiredly.

“Table for six?” She asked.

“More like five and a half,” my mother chuckled.

It was incredible to think about. The one thing I knew to be solid, my family, had adapted so quickly. The indifferent resilience I harbored towards the effects of change was broken. Everything changes, I thought to myself silently as I sat down at the table for six. Although permanence believes that it's written in stone, it’s actually just a temporary step we all take in order to achieve our necessary transformations.