I am not a home decorator. In fact, I avoid some of the “finer things” in life, like shiny new dining room sets or brand new cars. First, because it seems odd to segregate the space where food is prepared from the room where you eat it; two, a shiny new table is like a shiny new car, a pleasure for the eye to behold but terrorizes with its perfection. Don’t put your glass down there, it will make a ring! Don’t let the cats near the chairs; they will use them as a scratching post! Put a blotter under that piece of paper so it doesn’t ruin the finish! Park the car a mile away from the grocery store so a runaway cart doesn’t ram it!
How can you live with prima donna stuff?
When I was growing up, our kitchen table and our dining room table were one and the same. We didn’t have separate rooms for mealtimes, besides, in a noisy household with my parents, 3 sisters and brother (7 altogether), one bathroom in the house and one table on which to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, light candles for countless birthday cakes, wrap presents, repair Ginny dolls and glue the legs on broken china horses, cut out newspaper articles, paper dolls and dress patterns, labor over homework, use as a foot rest while talking on the phone, lean on to listen to someone on the other side, shuffle a deck of playing cards on, spread out a Monopoly playing board, host a Dungeons & Dragons party, that table was busy. That table had stories to tell.
While Ken and I were living in New Jersey, we had a dining room AND a dining room SET, an Ethan Allan collection I bought at a garage sale of all places. The woman was selling it because her child had accidentally gouged one of the extension inserts (in my mind, who cares). The grandmother thought her daughter was nuts for selling it for a song but before our conversation continued, I noticed someone else was interested in the table, so I plunked down a deposit. Her husband helped me bring it home. That table and I began our first story together.
That story continued for most of the 18 years we lived in that house. It was the one thing we depended upon every day of our lives. That table held up our daily bread, cooperated in gift wrapping marathons, sheltered sewing projects, supported daily writing endeavors as I wrote through hundreds of hours, filling up notebook after notebook figuring out my life, struggling with demons and decisions, praying or rejoicing on paper. That table eavesdropped on private telephone conversations and kept my secrets, never refused to double as a vet stand for unnamable cat caretaking procedures, served as an uncomplaining repository for stacks of junk mail and magazines “to be read later,” stood still as a binocular holder and packing stand, hosted parties and the heft of Thanksgiving dinners. It held Italian, Indian, Asian and American cuisine in equal measure, never once dropping a glass of wine or a dollop of gravy. It held my head when I cried.
It was too big to go with us when we moved, so I offered it to a young couple from work who had started a family. When they said they would take it, I was stunned, oh… a piece of me is leaving. How did a table slip into the role of friend and confidante? Like relationships that have evolved over time, through turmoil and joy, hard times and good times, this table had MY stories in it, it was literally a friend I could lean on. It was hard to say goodbye. But there was a baby involved. It was time for it to raise a family.
Fast forward to our home now, a cozy condo in Middlebury, Vermont. Three weeks ago, on the way home from errands, on a whim, I turned right and drove up a hill to the Vermont Used Furniture Store. We walked into a dimly lit room that smelled of warm oranges and there it was. Alone except for its satellite chairs, it stood in the corner like an old friend waiting for me to recognize it. A different table than the one we had but just the right size, made in the USA, and according to the owner, made of “wild cherry.”
I approached the table and we eyed each other up, the first test of whether we would get along. I am not a connoisseur of fine furniture and thought cherry can be pretty “fahncy.” It was expensive for a used table, just how fussy is this Henkel Harris thing?
Like Goldilocks checking the temperature of the bears’ porridge, I sat on each chair in turn, making sure there were no creaks or cracks, dragged the tips of my fingers over the honeyed surface of the table, felt a scratch here, a dent there, noticed the shiny finish was worn where you would plunk your elbows down while eating good food or leaning forward to listen to a conversation. I was pleased to note a faint ring where a glass of water had been left too long. There were rub marks and pale webs of scratches…a stack of books swept off its surface perhaps, or the rough wool from a loved one’s winter coat?
This table had a patina of stories.
We fell in love.