It seems most of the important things in our lives are decided around a kitchen table. Well, for pretty much all of my life anyway. There is something so timeless about that table in the kitchen. Well worn sometimes, well used for certain and a very tangible symbol of the family that has gathered around it for so very long. I can remember a whole lot of kitchen/dining room tables my family has gathered around.
The one in childhood in Florida was, as I remember anyway, sort of steel grey with a fake marbled top. I see it as a grey block crouching in the knotty-pine dining area right off the kitchen with it’s Sunday-best table cloth that sported a pine-cone/fir tree motiffe.
Then there was the yellow topped one in Long Beach in the tiny little bay-window nook that seemed to be hunkered down like a little girl giggling over not being found in Hide’n’Seek. That little nook was a place where one could sit around the corner to the left and no one coming in the kitchen or even the alley door to the right of the kitchen sink could see you. It was the only place in the house that afforded true seclusion. In the dining room of that house on Walnut St was the “big table”, the one used on such formal occasions as Christmas or birthdays or the evening before Mike went into the Navy. It usually had a crocheted table cloth on it, which indicated the particular use of the item which it covered. No everyday coffees here, only those occasions deemed festive enough for its use.
There was the round, almost modern one in Santa Fe Springs. It sported chairs with castor’s and a leaf that turned it into an oblong table suitable for every sort of any kind of celebration. It was this one that moved with my Mother. From Santa Fe Springs to what was called El Toro then, (now it is known as Lake Forest, very hoity-toity). I remember this one being ensconced in her mobile home (DO NOT call it a trailer) with the mirrors on the built in china cabinet copying it into infinity.
It was that round, funky sort of table I remember as her most happy-I-bought-it item. We celebrated my childrens birthdays there every year, my own too and hers. The four of us, my two boys and her and I would gather around that to snack, to feast on meals or just have cookies and talk about all the things that needed to be laid out on the top of it and flipped over and back again. My brothers and I gathered around that table when we had to make the agonizing decision to put her in a board and care home, just before she passed away from ovarian cancer. My brother Edwin still has it. Seems fitting somehow that it just never quite left the family.
In my own house I have had over the years tables that never seemed to have that kind of magnetic appeal. I had an antique from England that I loved but not too many others did. Then, after the boys both left my house, I had a beautiful glass-topped small round one that I still have, but it has migrated to be outside by my front door enticing my visitors to sit a spell.
I think the one I have now is the one that will probably travel with me when I wander. It has four very beautiful dark wood chairs, a leaf in the center that has its own resting place inside the table and a scared and very used top. It came to me that way. I found it at the old St. Vincent de Paul store, silently pushed to the side of an aisle looking forlorn. As I cleared its top to see it better I could the scratches and the damage done to its shiny mahogony top. Then I touch it. And it spoke to me of its family gathered around, having meals, celebrating, playing games, laughing, crying and living. I took it home.
It is the table’s character, its personality if you will, that gives it its infinite beauty. It sits in my dining room with its four newer chairs gathered around it, sometimes with a fancy table cloth on it, most times just everyday place mats. It still loans itself to its true calling, to be the gathering place for my little famiy. It is where Terry and I had our evening meals, before he had to go back to Michigan for a while. Its where Auntie Norma and I have shared meals occasionaly, both of us marking the empty space where he should be. It is where my grandchildren have gathered for a cutthroat game of Monopoly, with the Land Baroness Cienna playing til the bitter end. It is where my dogs and I gather and sigh over the empty chair that is waiting for Terry’s return.
Kitchen tables. Like kitchens, they are the heart and hearth of a family. It is where the heartbeat is. It is where the love is grown, nurtured, feed, stretched and honed to perfection.