Sunday, August 5, 2012
It's Not Just a Table; It's a Tradition
When you look at this table, it looks like an old, beat up, unloved piece of furniture. A hot ghetto mess if you will.
There's so much more to this table than meets the eye. It's not just a table; it's a tradition.
This table is a solid maple Colonial-style dining table that my parents bought sometime during the 1960's. It is the only dinner table I ever knew in our household growing up. With its three leaves, it can seat up to ten people. Sometimes during the holidays, our eight-member family needed the extra space for guests. They don't make tables like this anymore. When I say it's solid maple, I mean just that -- no veneers, no composite wood. Solid maple. It takes at least two people to lift it. At least.
I'm pretty sure I learned to walk leaning on the legs of this table. My late mother, SWIE (She Who Is Exalted), took great care of this table. Despite the fact that she had six children and she never allowed us to eat in any part of the house but at this table, she kept a foam protective cover on the table and a fresh, ironed tablecloth on top of the cover every single day, even into her illness with Alzheimer's and cancer before she died. Every week or two, but never more than three, she would remove the soiled tablecloth, pull back the protective cover, polish the table and chairs, replace the protective cover, and iron a clean tablecloth and put it on top of the protective cover. When she died, my oldest sister, who would later inherit my parents' house, took over caring for the table. In my lifetime, I have never dined or eaten at this table without its foam protective cover and a tablecloth on it, despite the fact that every home meal I had growing up, every Christmas Dinner I ate before my mother died (except for one, when I was studying abroad), every Thanksgiving Dinner I ate before my mother died, was eaten at this table.
I used to sit and do my homework at this table while my mom cooked dinner. it was years before my feet reached the floor.
My sisters and I used to comb my grandmother's hair when she sat at this table. We were mesmerized by her hair's soft, straight texture, which was nothing like any of ours.
We debated politics and current affairs with my dad at this table, who insisted that everyone have an opinion no matter what their age. We debated everything from the Equal Rights Amendment, to comparable worth (remember that?), to re-electing Nixon (Dad voted for Nixon, despite my strenous objections, even at age 9), to Watergate, to O.J. Simpson's guilt (my dad and my brothers admitted they thought O.J. did it, but said they'd never tell white people that).
I was sitting at this table doing Calculus problems when they announced on the radio that John Lennon had been shot and killed.
I sat at this table and announced to my family, with great shame, that I had failed the California State Bar Exam, to which my mother replied, "Everybody falls down. I'll let you lay down there for a little while and feel sorry for yourself. But then you have to get back up." I did, and I later passed.
We had our first Christmas dinner that my mother did not cook at this table, because my mother no longer remembered her Christmas recipes due to Alzheimer's disease.
So I guess by now you're wondering how it got to look like a hot ghetto mess?
Because we made the mistake of passing it down to the generation behind us, AKA, "The Generation That Values Nothing" or TGTVN.
You see, we thought the table and its chairs, despite their unfortunate Colonial style, would mean something to TGTVN because it had been passed down from my parents to us to them. We siblings thought that TGTVN would care for the table and enjoy family and holiday dinners with their children at the table as we had.
And I'm sure they did, and then some. But not with any care for the table.
No foam protective covering, no tablecloth, nothing. They let their kids color and glue and eat and spill and mark on top of this solid maple table without a care. To them, it was just an old relic. Maybe they didn't remember watching my mother iron a tablecloth each weekend or so to replace the soiled one, or maybe they didn't remember her getting out the Pledge and polishing a table top that no one would ever see because it was too beautiful not to be covered.
I wish it were so. But the truth is, they didn't value it because they didn't have to work for it, like many things they've received from our generation that they didn't have to work for. We made the mistake of trying to help them so they wouldn't have to struggle as much, so that every generation would do better than the next.
That was our mistake. We assumed too much. And, as my oldest brother said, we deprived them of the lessons that come from struggle, the lessons that come from having to work for something you want or need. We also did not share with them the love that my mother had for and put into that table.
Well, TGTVN left the table behind in the garage at my parents' old house, which they had rented from its current owner, my brother, who had bought the house from my sister. I had seen the table before in TGTVN's possession its current state and offered to buy it back. I was told that I could buy it once they got a new table. They never did.
So when I saw the table in my brother's garage, left upside-down on concrete, no less, I made arrangements to bring it to my house. The picture of it above was taken in my garage. Yes, I stole the table, with my brother's blessing. The chairs? I never liked them, but I wouldn't have done to a cockroach what they did to those chairs. We found parts of the chairs in the front yard. Yes, parts. Of solid maple chairs. Just a hot ghetto mess.
So now I have my mother's table, plus the three leaves that go with it. I will have it professionally refinished. I will then put a protective cover on it, followed by a tablecloth. I will buy new upholstered chairs to go with it to kind of hide the Colonial stylings under the table that I never really liked.
And then my husband, my children to come (very soon, sometime before the end of the year if all goes well), and I will dine at this table. We will have our Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners on this table, this time with formal china. And I will tell them the history of this table, tell them of its solid construction, tell them the care that the grandmother they will never know put into this table. I will impart its history upon them.
We will start our new traditions at this table. Hopefully, they will value it more than the others in their generation. Because, as my sister The Writing Diva said, "It's not just a table; it's a tradition."