In my mother's kitchen sits a plain, ordinary kitchen stool. You know the kind I mean - a functional, two-step, metal stool with a little seat at the top.
It's not much to look at. The yellowish-gold paint is chipped and the vinyl seat cover has been replaced a few times.
The ever-present stool has always occupied a small area of my mom's kitchen floor, near the butcher block, in the center of the kitchen.
That kitchen stool serves a simple function: It helps those of who suffer from short stature reach the top shelves of the cupboards in the kitchen. Taken to other areas of the house, it has also substituted as a small stepladder for cleaning away cobwebs and for painting areas that are just out of normal reach.
But, the humble appearance of that kitchen stool is misleading. The real importance of this stool in the life of our family is much more significant. Whenever our family gets together, we seem to congregate around the table in Mom's small kitchen. Over the years, during the swell of family gatherings, the kitchen stool became an extra chair at the dinner table.
As babies began arriving, the stool served as a makeshift high chair for little ones. With a tea towel wrapped snuggly around chubby baby tummies and then tied securely to the metal backrest of the stool, our precious little ones were prevented from taking sudden, unexpected swan dives from the seat.
As our family grew, my mom's dogs and cat sought sanctuary within the lower rungs and legs of the stool in a valiant attempt to stay safely out of the reach of toddler fingers. The temporary haven worked until, completely unnerved, the cat or dog would flee from the kitchen, squealing toddler chasing close behind.
I can't recall how many times I've sat on the stool myself, feet planted firmly on the lower step, elbows on my knees, hands clasped, leaning forward to catch the words of my siblings, aunts, uncles, and parents. Chairs around the kitchen table were filled to capacity. No one, including me, ever wanted to be left out of the boisterous conversation or raucous laughter.
As in any family, happy, joy-filled times can be replaced with sadness. Many serious discussions have taken place with one of us seated on that stool. If you looked closely, you might see the stain of tears that have fallen from our eyes and landed quietly on its steps.
The kitchen stool has served as a safe haven not only for small animals, but small children too. During one Christmas visit to Mom's, my then four-year-old daughter sat, hour upon hour, on the kitchen stool. A few days into our visit, we finally realized that Melissa was terrified of her aunt's dog and was afraid to get down.
A few years ago, I noticed that my own kitchen was missing something - a kitchen stool. That problem was easily remedied with a trip to the store. Although my white kitchen stool is a little newer, it serves many of the same functions as my mother's.
I use it to reach those hard-to-reach places around the house. It becomes a makeshift chair at the dinner table when our children come home for dinner. And most recently, it served as a temporary high chair, tea towel and all.
But most importantly, it stands as a silent sentry, marking the passage of time. It is a witness to the growth of our family, the return of young children to our home and the continuance of a family tradition. That little kitchen stool is a quiet reminder of memories, and some are yet to be created.
Theresa Larson is the Lodi News-Sentinel's administration manager. She is married and the mother of five children. Her column appears the first and third Wednesday of the month. She can be contacted at 125 N. Church St., (209) 369-2761 or via e-mail.