Mismatched bowls of steamed broccoli, yams drenched in real maple syrup, cranberry relish and cranberry sauce all competed for space with platters of turkey on the Webber's battered kitchen table. Friends and family squeezed onto every chair and stool, even the piano bench. Space was so tight I could almost touch the Hoosier where Sally stored the antique moose-head creamers she used for gravy. A plastic plate with a different drawing laminated inside waited in front of each guest. I was secretly pleased the kids had fought over who got my mermaid design. A trio of candles shone on the windowsill, decorated with colored beeswax. Outside, redwood trees grasped the late afternoon sun.
"Let's join hands for three oms," Leo said. He and his wife Sally had been my adopted family since I'd first met them a decade earlier through a spiritual community given to mantras and too much sharing. Although I no longer followed that group, I still liked to chant a few oms.
I clasped hands with my neighbors, guiltily grateful that I wasn't sitting next to Leo's friend Fred. Short, hairy and obnoxious as a monkey, Fred was the object of much derisive eye-rolling between Leo's seven-year-old daughter, Lily, and myself. Although I was 30, I wanted to show her I was the fun aunt.
I closed my eyes, anticipating a soulful connection of our hearts and minds.
Leo exhaled a low om, holding the "o" sound as everyone joined in. Fred's om burst out high-pitched and nasal, a ridiculously unsacred sound. My eyes popped open in shock, catching Lily's. We struggled to suppress our giggles. Fred gulped another breath and spewed forth an even louder, more discordant om that seemed to resound through the canyon and over the mountains. I expected Leo or Sally to take Fred aside and give him chanting instructions, but they sat serenely, accepting the anti-Zen sounds he exuded. The more I tried not to laugh, the more I shook with suppressed mirth. My eyes met Lily's again and we burst into naughty laughter.
Twenty years later, a second rectangular table had to be pushed up against the old kitchen table to fit all the new guests. Many of the original plastic plates still graced the table, along with new favorites: Lily's 1990's gnome plate, a surfer dude made by Uncle Noel, Aerielle's fairy design from her tween years. Steam rose from platters of food, and even the Tofurky made my stomach rumble. Sally placed two moose-head creamers full of gravy on the table and took her seat.
Lily's seven-year old daughter, Leila, born when Lily was 19, held my left hand; her three-year-old son, Skyler, grasped my right. Lily's youngest, one-year-old Dylan, wandered off just as Papa Leo called for three oms. I hoped wild Dylan wouldn't destroy anything important while our eyes were closed. Leo took a deep breath and started the first om. Leila giggled, the perfect echo of her mother two decades earlier. I smiled, but kept my eyes shut; I no longer needed to misbehave to feel accepted.
Our oms rose over the table, tones blending into a complex, beautiful sound. Everyone had a place in the song we wove. Fred had moved back to the East Coast many years previously, but it would have been fine if he had been there.
I snuck a peek at Dylan in the living room. He stared back at us wide-eyed. We exhaled the second om. Sound bounced off the new dining-room linoleum, circled up and filled the skylight. Dylan waddled back to the table and grinned up at us, entranced. Our final om, long and sweet, reverberated around the circle, connecting us in grateful communion.
Stacey Dennick is an artist and writer living in Sonoma County.