My grandfather built the house himself, a smallish bungalow a few miles from the river, with a good porch and a barn across the road. It was a humble house with three tiny bedrooms and a bathroom added by dad years later, when there were two small kids and a third on the way and Mom was fed up with dragging everything around to the outhouse.
At the center was a large, eat-in kitchen, with bedrooms and living room radiating from it like the rays of the sun. Six of us ate our meals at a round, oak table that, in my memory, was huge. Mom and Dad sat at that table late into the evenings, going over the budget, chatting with uncles and aunts and grandparents. We did our homework there, and mom set the table for big, fried chicken dinners on Sunday. Dad had his morning coffee and cigarette there when he came in from the fields for breakfast; I remember crawling up on his lap, remember his blue work coveralls and his stubbled cheek, remember feeling safe. Remember sitting there, too, the morning a neighbor showed up at the back door to tell us my father was dead.
Many years later, after my mother died, my aunt finally sold that old house. I hadn’t seen it in a decade, and I never planned to live there again, but it was hard to see it go. If my husband and I hadn’t bought our first house together the year before, I’d probably have lobbied to buy it. As long as we owned that house, a place still existed where we had been a family, all of us together.
Coincidentally, it was around this time that I found myself in possession of that old kitchen table. It had gotten a bit warped over the years, and contrary to my memory it was hardly big enough to accommodate even four adults. But back then, most us were little kids and we were all family, so there felt like plenty of space. I wanted to keep that table for sentimental reasons, but our house has small rooms, too, and no space for a dining table that can’t be used for dining. Eventually I passed it back to my sister, who is probably trying to figure out what to do with it now, herself.
When you’re young, there are usually some relatives, a house, some possessions that connect you to the place where you started. If the people who raised you did a good job, there are also places inside of you that act as an internal GPS, long after those people and those places are gone.
Cancer, the sign of home and history and heritage, is your astrological GPS, the umbilical cord that connects you to the mother ship and nourishes you to viability. It’s home – the place where you started out in life, the place where you begin each day, and the people and things that have been there with you. Sometimes it’s even an old, warped table.
The family home is still there, and the old neighborhood, and they’re looking good, but they’re no longer mine. Now in my fifties, I’m out of elders, other than a few older cousins. There have been rough times for my family over the past few years, with financial worries and health problems and various existential crises, and there is sometimes the sense that without the sustaining superglue of an elder generation, the wheels are about to fly right off the bus, sending us careening into a ditch.
But there are some young people in the family, and however wobbly we might be, we’re their umbilical cord. We’re what they’ve got. They sit at a table with us and listen to our stories, and struggle to remember their grandparents, so vivid and dear to us. They need nourishment, and a sense of place, and a tribe. I suppose someday they’ll cherish our unromantic Ikea dining tables and feel wistful about our houses.
We get to experience Cancer from the other side, now. We are the ones who have to try to summon words of wisdom, who celebrate the achievements and try to put the losses into perspective. We’re the ones who worry over the budget and try to suppress our anxiety about the future. We’re the ones who safeguard a past so that the next generation can head off into the future feeling a little more secure.
The New Moon in Cancer is the season to celebrate belonging, family, and home. Sadly, we don’t always get along with the people who share our blood. Some of them are cruel and destructive and violent, and we can’t have them in our lives. Some of us just lose our loved ones too young. So many of us are lost children practically from the time we’re born and have to figure out for ourselves how to deal with a harsh world, and that isn’t fair. We are children in grown up bodies, and when others look to us for nurturing, there is a small, resentful voice that says, “What about me?”
It’s a big round table that we’re all sitting at, more or less together, and even those of us who grew up with wise elders and stable households are still frightened children, sometimes. And sometimes there are bigger, stronger people protecting us from life’s harshness, but sometimes we’re the ones who have to fry the chicken and set the table. Even if you don’t have happy memories and protectors to make you feel cherished, here’s an unexpected truth: nurturing others can help heal the part of you that no one looked after properly.
So at this Cancer New Moon, I wish you a good dinner at a strong table with people who care about you. I wish you memories of how you’ve been loved and places where you’ve been happy. And if you don’t have those things, go ahead and set your table, and make supper, and invite someone you know to share it with you. We’re strangers, most of us, but we’re sitting at that big table together, just waiting to become a family.
© 2014, 2017 by April Elliott Kent