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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Family Table

           


Once upon a time, back in the land of "When I Was a Little Girl," we had an enormous dining room table. It had once belonged to my father's Nana, my great-grandmother, and had come to us after a Great Aunt's passing. It was dark mahogany wood, almost black in color, thick and heavy. Without any of the six leafs inserted, the table comfortably seats six to eight fully grown adults with elbow room. Once it was fully extended, it stretched from our dining room out into the living room and could seat about 20 kissing cousins, (and often did.) The kids had to all sit on one side of the table because the only access to that side was by crawling across the floor underneath.
       
             Which brings us to my favorite part of this particular monster, the underside. I spend an inordinate amount of time under our dining room table. It's massive center leg resembled the trunk of a redwood, thick with massive ornate feet curling out in several directions. When you were under that table, especially when a tablecloth hung around the edges, it was easily the kind of tree in which you imagined millions of fairies living. The rails which were meant to support the extensions closed up to create a convenient cubby hole, perfect for storing secret messages, stuffed animals, or something you swiped from your sister. Hot Wheels tracks could be balanced from that nook, at precarious angles, down across the feet, creating an Evel Knievel-worthy death-plunge. Barbie and her friends frolicked there in a fantasy forest, and I'll admit, it's where she first lost her virginity. It was a magical place to spend a rainy day.
          Above the tablecloth there were some equally wonderful memories. As a family unit we ate our daily meals at the kitchen table, but special occasions meant "company." Extended family, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, gathered around and sharing laughter and love at birthdays, holidays, and religious events. I know there are hours of eight millimeter film somewhere in Dad's garage--70's version of us all, faces blocked to deflect the spotlight, tongues protruding, arms waving, and bunny-ear making. Formal occasions and casual get-togethers all celebrated with multigenerational fervor. Some family lived in other cities or states and were on a rare visit, some lived only a block away and we saw them on a regular basis, but there was always something significantly more exciting about those special events involving the table.
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            I remember the anticipation that came with watching the table grow and the folding chairs set up next to the mahogany and crimson-velvet thrones that accompanied the table; the linen and lace tablecloths and napkins and the special box of silver, clearly an honor to use; the big knife my dad would use to carve a turkey, and the box of accessories to sharpen it. I can still hear the singing of  metal against metal. I had no idea what he was doing, but it was all part of the show.
            Then there were the stories-- both the stories shared around the table, and the stories created there.  Meals didn't end when dessert was served. They ended when the stories had all been shared-- dirty plates, drained wine glasses, wadded up napkins and half empty coffee cups-- right before restless children began scurrying to and from my brother's room, accessible only by tunneling under the table. We were regaled with the tales of our parent's and grandparent's  youthful adventures and follies. I recall a great uproar of hilarity (and the oft retelling afterward) when my grandmother, rather than requesting the cranberry sauce, asked someone to "pass the poison apples." The meticulously prepared meal all the more enjoyable for the way it was shared.
            I remember the first big family gathering after my oldest was born. My mother, step-father and older brother had traveled together from up north, my sister, father, best friend and I, all together around that table to celebrate the beginning of the newest generation. As always I recall the laughter and comfort…well discomfort for me on my doughnut shaped pillow, but that's a private story. There were more ordinary days, special occasions and new additions celebrated around the table in the years that followed; holidays, family get-togethers, and the first meal my husband cooked for me. The chairs have been refurbished and the table relocated to Reno, where it has continued to host family and friends of all ages.
            My own family table is an ordinary pine-top, used for all occasions, special or otherwise. It is marked by years of daily living, with spilled paint, remnants of markers that slipped off paper, divots and scratches, and something sticky that can never be scrubbed off. A card table has been butted-up to it, to accommodate overflow, and it has been shoved against the wall to serve as a buffet.  It has had linen tablecloths and paper ones and seen at least four sets of dishes, and 60 birthdays come and go. It has seen joy and laughter, sadness, fighting and tears. Armies have been conquered, monopolies acquired, and Mrs. White killed a man with a candlestick there, as board games have been won, lost and thrown across the room in a fit of anger. It has heard more than its fair share of movie dialogue recited verbatim (as have I!) It is the place where we come together to celebrate our special occasions, and our ordinary moments, and where we share our stories, old and new.
            My childhood memories revolve around the special occasions, but my memories of my own family are filled with nightly meals and homework duty. One day I hope to surrounded our table with new additions-- spouses and grandchildren. Everyone has a memory of their family table. Whether you had Nana's epic six extensions or a card table for the kids in the kitchen, some of our greatest moments of bonding have taken place around the family table .

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