Blueprints for my next construction job were spread out on the kitchen table before me, but I couldn’t focus on them. My mind was on a different kitchen table, one I hadn’t seen in decades. “What are you thinking about?” my wife, Arbutis, asked me. She could always tell when my mind was somewhere else.
“I had that same dream again last night,” I said. “Night after night, the same dream.”
“The one about your grandmother?”
“That’s the one.” In the dream, I was sitting at Mamaw’s kitchen table. I recognized it right away. Growing up, I spent summers with Mamaw. In the dream I was alone at the table—or at least I seemed to be. I could hear Mamaw’s voice speaking to me, but she wasn’t there. It was troubling.
“Didn’t you and Mamaw used to sit together at that kitchen table at night?” Arbutis asked.
“We did,” I said. I remembered just how it started. I was seven years old, spending my first night by myself with my grandparents. Sometime after going to bed I woke up. I looked around the bedroom, lit by the soft glow of an old kerosene lamp outside the door. I heard a sound. Someone was in the kitchen.
I sat up and looked out the window at the star-filled sky. There wasn’t a hint of daylight. It must be the middle of the night, I thought.
From the kitchen, I heard someone speaking. It was Mamaw’s voice, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying. So I slipped out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen door.
Mamaw was alone at the kitchen table, her hands folded as if in prayer. She was speaking, but when I poked my head into the kitchen, I couldn’t see anyone else there.
“Come in, child, and sit with me for a while,” Mamaw said.
I pulled up a chair and climbed into it. “Who are you talking to?”
“God,” Mamaw said, as if the answer was obvious.
“Does he listen?” I asked.
“Of course he listens. The creator will listen to all who call upon him in Jesus’ name.”
“Does he ever talk back?” I asked. I tried to imagine what Gods voice would sound like. It would probably be big and gruff, like a bear’s growl.
Mamaw gently touched the side of my face. “God doesn’t always speak in words,” she explained.
“If he doesn’t use words, how does he talk to you?” I asked.
“Sometimes his message may come in a dream or a feeling deep in your heart. That’s how he talks to me here in the kitchen.”
I looked around doubtfully. The kitchen seemed very big and dark so late at night. As if anything could be hiding, waiting to jump out and get me. Mamaw must have seen I was afraid, because she turned up the kerosene lamp to show me there was nothing there.
“Now I’m going to dim the lamp,” she said. “This can be our quiet time together.”
Mamaw lowered the flame to a soft glow, then blew it out completely. It was so dark I couldn’t see Mamaw. She might have disappeared completely. Then, out of the dark, I heard her voice. I didn’t speak Cherokee like my grandmother did, so I couldn’t make out what she was saying. But God understood all languages. The slow rhythm of her chant was like a lullaby, and I lay my head on my arms and fell asleep.
When the rooster woke me up the next morning, I was back in my room with sunlight streaming across my bed. Mamaw’s voice in the dark kitchen seemed like a dream, a wonderful dream. Had it really happened at all?
“It wasn’t a dream,” Mamaw assured me when I asked her about it. “You were with me last night during my quiet time with our creator, and then I walked you sleepily to bed.”
“If I promise that I can be still and not talk, could I share the quiet time with you again?”
“Nothing would make me happier,” she said.
For the rest of the summer, every morning before daylight Mamaw and I would sit at the kitchen table. She talked to God and I listened. Those times always filled me with peace.
But Mamaw was gone now. Gone from her prayer time at that kitchen table, gone from this world, gone from me. Maybe that’s why the dream I’d been having all week left me feeling so unsettled.
“If you really want to understand your dream,” Arbutis said as I rolled up my blueprints, “you should do what Mamaw would do. Get up before dawn and listen to God.”
Getting up before dawn wasn’t as easy these days as it was when I was a young boy. “You know what? I think I should get my rest instead of trying to talk to God,” I said.
Arbutis raised an eyebrow. “No one said you had to talk,” she said. “Just listen.”
So there I was the next morning, alone on the sun porch, darkness surrounding me like a black shroud, Venus shining brightly in the eastern sky.
“God, you know these dreams I have been having. The ones I just can’t understand. Just me alone in Mamaw’s kitchen. I hear her voice, but I’m still alone…”
I could almost see that kitchen, just the way it used to be. Mamaw should be there with me, I thought, closing my eyes. Listening.
A feeling of well-being passed through me, as gentle as a baby’s sigh. And I dreamed again, a daydream with Mamaw right there with me, dressed in white. She touched my face, just like she had all those years ago. I reached out for her, and though she faded from my vision she in no way faded “away.”
I blinked my eyes open to a bright morning sun. And deep in my heart I knew the message of my dream.
Mamaw was as close to me now as she was when we sat together praying at her kitchen table. She was still talking to God. And she wanted me to keep listening.