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  • Writer's pictureKevin Cordi

Setting the Table

Exercise One to Explore Place in Story---Setting the Table

*As we travel,

we need to remember that the senses are a rich part of our episodic memory. A smell can occur because of what we see. A certain lingering scent can bring us back to story. A taste of homemade soup can not only bring us back to the soup, but the episodes around it. The same is true with all senses.

If we concentrate on the senses as we travel with the image in front of us or do more than recall the memory of something, we might remember how we acted from this memory. We want to try to visualize the image. We want to explore how the senses makes it more real. The senses can be a reason for the action. After all, I wonder, would the wolf come

to Red’s assistance if the cookies had been burnt? The lingering overcooked smell might have created a different story. Imagine the story images are: "And the wolf abruptly avoided his nose from the bitter, cold, burnt, he could not call aroma, coming from the woods."

As my wife Barbara and I entered the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, we traveled to the massive kitchens and honorary eating places inside the castle. It was the "Silver Collection." However, this is not a solitary kitchen, instead it consisted of many rooms designed for preparing and eating meals. Specifically each place had their own place settings required in these rooms. Specific people were assigned for different places, cups, sauces...rooms that would be host to over 200 plus people.

As I visited each room, I kept thinking of how opulent this fine crystal was and only could imagine the royalty that had been around these tables. A dignitary would engage in polite and respected conversation. (However, I suspect more than a few broke the rules.) Meantime, back in Ohio, I was thinking of how anxious we were to get a special colored glass at the Sparkle market and how my five brothers and sisters and I were overjoyed when we completed the set. We would wait to see if it was blue or green. We felt on top of the world when each of had a glass we could call our own.

I marveled at the intricate designs and listened on the audio headset to accounts of who could and couldn't sip from these royal goblets. We heard how you must hold them in a dainty way or risk upsetting the host.

This brought me back to the coffee that we were never allowed to drink growing up. The simple cooking pot would heat the water and the unmistakable bitter smell of Folgers would enter our nostrils. As much as the signature royals drank their tea, no one but my mother could drink this coffee. It was and is one of the few "luxuries" she gave herself. She spoke of not having this aroma in her days in West Virginia and one look would tell you that although not royal manners, it was the manner to respect my mother's time with her coffee.

As I looked at rooms and rooms of plates that travel around the world just to grace some specific noble, I remember when my mother won a complete set of dishes. The green ambiance of each plate, saucer, and cup made the entire set shine so you would not forget them. When our house was full of church folk, neighbors, and us kids, my mother stood like an emperor stands and said in a boisterous voice, "I won these dishes, They are special. These dishes are unbreakable." Then, with a mighty hurl, she slammed the dish on the ground broke in a million pieces.

My mother stood aghast and it took awhile, but she laughed and as it felt like permission was given, the viewing audience did as well. We relished at the luxury of the laughter. This was our brand of fine crystal and it splattered on the floor. As my mother is fond of saying, "we should not grow beyond our raising." I guess our palace took on different form at our house.

This brings me to the fine silverware. We saw cases and cases of many sizes of silverware for special occasions.

Once, in my first year of teaching, I was on my own. My neighbor, landlord, and friend Ken and I would select a fine dining place from the coupons we had on a book of coupons that he shared in a book-like document called an "Entertainment Book." Growing up my family rarely went out for fine dining. Truth be told, we rarely picked up a pizza and brought it home. However, here I was at a resturant that I couldn't wear blue jeans. I remember a young man dressed in 'tuck and tails' leaned over to me and unveiled a silver plate. He unwrapped a red napkin and lying there was a miniature fork, half the size of my thumb. With a regale voice, he asked, "would you like a crisp cool salad fork?" I had to ask him what he said, he repeated, "would you like a crisp cool salad fork?" I lost it. Ken lost it. There was something comedic about a lone fork wrapped in red dressing on a silver plate.

It was our joke at every restaurant we dined. I would lean over Ken and say, "would you like a cool crisp salad fork to go with your lasagna?" I have to say in all the years and all the places I have gobbled down food, dined and took my time eating things I couldn't pronounce, I have never seen a "cool crisp salad fork" again. That is, until we toured Vienna and royal Sisi was known for her fine taste. Among all that cutlery, it shined again. It was like it was laughing at me. I guess I had a little royalty after all.

We may not had fine crystal, but we did have our special place at the table. We had our unique meals. When I come home and my mother has pepperoni rolls, a staple of West Virginia and a coveted delicacy at our home, I know , although it is a not a royal place setting, it is a most welcomed one.

An invite:

I now invite you to examine the pictures and read my episodic accounts. I hope it brings you to memory. Keep in mind that the senses can help build the memories. Don't worry about writing it as a full story, but instead hold still the time and reflect on it. Play with not only what you saw, but what it smelled like, how it might have tasted....Also, let your memory roam and perhaps share it. I know it helps to tell it to someone who just agrees to listen. Share it in different ways. One way is to share it with me. Feel free to comment below or share your work. You can also send images and your reflections to my email and I will possibly share it as we reflect together.


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