The Table of My Youth

His one goal: to welcome everyone into his home, always. The eminent, stained, rustic, too-small-to-fit-our-huge-group, yet perfect wooden table will forever be the embodiment of Johnny Vassilaros. I have sat at that table for my entire life. First, as my feet dangled off of the edge of the bench, too short to reach the floor and arms too weak to pull the platter of barbecued meats towards me. As I grew, everything remained the same. I was always the baby of the table, placed into the smallest open seat, as I was the only one able to squeeze in between the muscular Vassilaros boys who surrounded me. Each dinner that was served at that wooden table played a monumental role: to break bread, share stories, laugh and gather as a ‘family.’
Johnny was diagnosed with colon cancer that eventually spread throughout his entire body. As he fought this long and trying battle, he attempted to maintain a front of the constant laughter and happiness that he had always stood for. Eventually he became too tired and was no longer able to join the family at that wooden table. He had finally succumbed to his illness. “I don’t recognize this person anymore. This isn’t me,” he used to say. Johnny preferred to lay in the makeshift bedroom that we had created off of the kitchen instead of the master bedroom upstairs for one reason, the improvised bedroom was close enough to the patio that he could hear the laughter coming from the wooden table. As he lay in bed, he had one rule: that the rest of us continued to eat at that table, together, for the rest of our lives.
The day that Johnny passed away was the same as every other day. We all sat outside, competing in backgammon tournaments and manhunt competitions as people took shifts sitting by his side.
When the last person opened the screen porch and exited with an expressionless face, we knew what had happened. Johnny had finally left us.
We spent that night at the same wooden table. Everyone sat around, recalling stories that had been made in those very same seats, creating a tangible yet phantom presence of Johnny Vassilaros.

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