Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Can a dining room table be your North Star?


This is what my dining room table looks like at 12:49 p.m. on a Tuesday. It's my favorite spot in the house. It gets the best light of the day, and like all things in good light, it flourishes.

It's not actually my dining room table though. It's my grandmother's. Or it was before she died two Decembers ago at age 93. When she asked me what I wanted after she died, way back before her dying was not nearly in sight, I told her then: I don't want anything, but if you have to leave me something, leave me the dining room table.

So she did. And the china cabinet and hutch too. I don't know why I asked for the dining room table, when it was really the breakfast table where we spent our lives. It was the place where she mourned her husband when my mom was just seventeen, where my mother told us all she was getting married again, where I came home to when I came home: it was the last place I saw her alive as she cupped my face in her strong hands and told me that I lay in her heart. That I laid in her heart.

But now, when I open the china cabinet to put in a dish or a cup, I can smell my childhood. I can smell the safety of my grandmother's house, my Bubbie. When I open that cabinet, I could climb in and lay down, for how comfortable and familiar it feels. And when I sit at her table with my children, I am sitting at every dinner I ever went to at her house, everyone joking and loud, the chopped liver, the brisket overflowing, and the conversation too.

When I open the doors of the hutch, I can hear the laughter of my cousins and I running through the hallways, sucking down orange Push-Ups and teasing each other about our tight Jordache jeans, racing Hot Wheels and growing up noisily together. When I open the doors of the hutch, I am seven again. And I am so light.

The dining room table came here a few months after Bubbie died and there was already something in it's place: my father's dining room table which I inherited when he died seven and a half years ago, and is just as special, but not nearly as old and therefore, had to go in the garage since we really don't even have a dining room anyway. I say dining room, but I mean: our one and only dining/eating/congregating/noshing area. So, out to the garage went my father's light oak, heavier than rock, table with it's white painted legs and it's Shabby Chic paint peeling chairs.

Oh, how I love that table too.

I sat at that table when I opened the first present that had ever taken my breath away: a Canon EOS camera. A real camera. My first. My Dad and my stepmom pushed it across the table to me and, with it, the power to see deeper, more purposefully, and with entirely new vision. At that table, my stepmom made her art, my father cheering her along, her devoted fan. The paint is still on the table today, in specks and drips here and there, like she just finished up and is in the kitchen washing out her brushes. And my dad served up my first perfect taste of fish at that table: red snapper with brown rice and asparagus. He placed it in front of me like I was royalty.

After we got Bubbie's table, which came with five upholstered chairs as well, my Dad's set reclined in the recesses of the garage alone, until we realized that five upholstered chairs and two children age five and two don't mix. That's when we brought out the chairs from my Dad's set - modern, sturdy wood with peeling paint- and married them to my grandmother's 1940's dark wood, unblemished antique table. The table where it sits now, in the light, is always covered, protected and my Dad's chairs surround it like armed soldiers: an unusual pairing, but perfect for our eclectic house where nothing matches, where nothing is a set. But where everything just seems to work together with some kind of unplanned harmony. Or unusual fate.

For the last thirty-seven years, I have made my way home to these two tables - in two different houses, in two different cities. I have grown up at them: and now that I have, they've both found their way back to me.

So now my North Star sits in my dining room, in the house that's home to my world.

2 comments:

Susan said...

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Jen said...

Ah, beautiful! Just beautiful.