21 October 2007
Our Tables, Ourselves
In Paris we ate at a small table – probably from IKEA – in front of a window overlooking a busy street in the 7th Arrondissement.
We lingered over our meals – like the one above, which was cobbled together with odds and ends – and speculated about the passing parade in the street below us. Children on their way to and from school, led by nannies or parents; office workers on motorbikes and bicycles; tourists clutching maps and water bottles, their eyes fixed on that Parisian homing device, the Eiffel Tower; and young women trotting expertly across the cobblestones in very high heels – we speculated on their stories as we sipped modestly priced wines from Provence and raved over the freshness of our ingredients.
The food and the company creates the memories, but the tables at which the memories are made play a role, too.
The circa 1910 cherry dining set that belonged to my Grandma Annie recently left its home in Frenchtown for the first time in 90 years. Ornately carved, with eight chairs and several buffets, it is now stashed away in my mother’s garage, covered with blankets to insulate it from the cold Wisconsin winters until that time my sister and her family have ample space for it. For a time, the dining set was used by the young family who bougth the house four years ago and who have brought it into its third century. But now they've got a dining set of their own, and Annie's has returned to her family.
It would fit in my dining room, which is the largest room in my home. But, laden with memories as it is, it is not my style. My husband, who chose the Prairie-inspired table and chairs we’ve used for 18 years, would find it ugly.
Besides, my sister has a daughter who will learn about Grandma Annie as her mother sets the elegant tables she devises for special dinners and holidays.
Those will be precious lessons. I have precious memories, too, of a time when Annie was in the prime of her life, surrounded by friends and family for long protracted Sunday dinners of roasted chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy and conversation. She was an attentive and gracious hostess, her salt-and-pepper hair neatly waved, pearls at her neck, her cheeks faintly rouged, her small lips breaking into an easy smile.
Annie's table contrasted with that of my father’s mother, Grandma Laura. That table was blond and spare of design, as different from Annie’s elaborate table as Laura was from Annie.
While Annie was round, Laura was slender. Annie baked and read women’s magazines. Laura smoked and favored movie magazines. Annie was warm and welcoming; Laura was witty and articulate, with a biting sarcasm that could cut your down to size in a moment.
I am like Annie during the work day. If you are invited to my home for a meal, you will meet her. But at the end of a long week, I am pure Laura. Without the cigarettes.
My table has its own memories, of heart-to-heart talks with my teen-aged stepdaughter, of candlelit dinners with my husband, of special meals with friends and family.
Annie’s table was a gathering place for four generations. When not in use, it was covered with an ecru lace cloth. Mine is left bare, with a woven runner and an art glass bowl in jewel tones as its centerpiece. It is always covered with junk mail or magazines, it seems. Keeping it clear is an ongoing chore.
Can tables be metaphors for our inner beings? I wonder…