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Gather Around the Family Table. Oh Wait, We Don’t Know How.


Table, a Definition from Webster:

1.  An article of furniture consisting of a flat, slablike top supported on one or more legs or other supports: a kitchen table; an operating table; a pool table.

2.  Such a piece of furniture specifically used for serving food to those seated at it.

3.  A group of persons at a table, as for a meal, game, or business transaction.


I’m sure that some combination of the above definitions is what my parents envisioned when they bought the dining room table at Trash to Treasures Antiques in Morro Bay in 1976 and loaded it onto the bed of my dad’s old green Ford pickup, carefully placing it on top of his brown, unzipped sleeping bag, the one with the ducks and hunting dogs all over the inside. The sleeping bag, like the table, was a ruse: nobody hunted in my family, and nobody used that table to serve food or gather as “a group of persons for a meal, game, or business transaction.”

The sole purpose of our antique oak table was to collect and hold all of our homeless junk. It was a beautiful table, made of dark oak with beautiful matching chairs etched with curlicues that a small kid finger could trace for hours in avoidance of homework. But in our house, you could not see the beauty of the table for the years of accumulated life paraphernalia of three kids and two tired adults. After a while even the chairs took on the job of holding the raw materials of our lives.

The mantra “A place for everything and everything in its place” did not apply to my childhood home. The words most often spoken in our house were, “Where the hell is the….?” The answer, always, was “Last time I saw it, it was somewhere on the dining room table.” Among the detritus of junk mail, unpaid bills that threatened shut off of services, pencils, tape, scissors, broken toys, and enough back issues of Women’s Day and Family Circle magazine to keep a prisoner in self-improvement articles and quick-and-easy recipes for a life sentence, was the center piece of the mess: my mom’s Singer sewing machine, thick with dust and too heavy to move, its pedal hanging like a noose from the twisted cord skirted messily around its unused body.  

The table was littered with Butterick and McCalls envelopes and tissue-thin brown patterns, one of which was carefully pinned to fuzzy white fabric that was supposed to be a bunny costume for me, circa 1979. I was 8 years old that Halloween, and I wanted to dress up as a bum. .My mom refused to allow me to wear a “boy costume” and I refused to relent. In a fit of inspiration on October 27, Mom decided she would sew my costume. I told her we had no time, knowing her history on projects in general, but she exclaimed, “Don’t be silly, I have Vivarin!” and dragged me to Beverly’s Fabrics to sit at the row of big pattern binders, assessing girly costumes for hours. I conceded to the bunny idea, but I guess the Vivarin ran out. When it became clear the thing was not gonna get made, she drove me to the Thrifty Drug Store on October 30th so I could pick out a plastic Casper the Friendly Ghost costume. Better than a bunny, but not as cool as a bum, I thought.


What happens sometimes is that I begin to think that my parents messed up in so many ways, and then I look at my own grown-up dining room table.

There it is, cluttered with the silver bowl of orange Cuties, the wicker box full of Family brand napkins, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Cost Plus World Market ads, Pizza Plus coupons, the half completed diorama on Tanzania, clay animal remnants sticking to the marker-stained wood, and silver paint spots globbing everywhere because we learned during our research on Africa that only the mouths of black mambas are black, so we had to paint the black clay snakes silver. Next to the diorama is the advent calendar, all doors opened 1-22; the crappy-tasting chocolate ornaments in a coffee cup beside it. We learned on December 1st that the foil-wrapped chocolate ornaments are too prettily decorated to throw out, but too disgusting to eat, so there they gather in the Santa cup, waiting for an unsuspecting Christmas Eve guest. One thing is certain, no family can sit and eat at that table without shoving our collection of mess aside.

So there we are, standing in the kitchen, holding our plates on the flat tables of our own palms, forks in mid air as we stop eating to discuss what fact the bootie boy should write about Mt. Kilimanjaro for the required report that accompanies his diorama, throwing out facts as if we are contestants on Jeopardy.

“It’s the highest point in Africa?”

“It’s a dormant volcano?”

“It means snow covered?”

He throws down  the chicken tender he has been thoughtfully chewing, and it lands on a glob of silver paint as he picks up his yellow pencil, and shouts “Yes!” He leans over, so close to the page his nose just might touch it, carefully writing the last sentence of his report as his elbow nudges the clutter of our small, overworked dining room table.


This holiday season, I hope your table holds all that you hope for and more. Happy Holidays!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Howard permalink
    12/22/2011 10:33 pm

    And you my dear sister have yet again, made me in awwww of your writting abilities!

  2. 12/22/2011 10:36 pm

    Oh, lordy, does this hit home. I sit here at my laptop, with freshly wrapped homemade caramels in a bowl, waiting to be bagged and delivered. There’s a huge notebook from my Yoga Therapy training program, a yarn swift and ball winder, two knitting projects, and a large monitor awaiting Hubby for when he gets home to plug his laptop into. Oh, there is a festive quilted table runner and some candles in the middle, too, left over from a meal we actually ate at the table!

    Happy Holidays!

    • 12/22/2011 11:13 pm

      Seems like a universal theme: the battle against clutter. Happy Holidays Yoga Nan! I know how good those caramels are actually…

  3. 12/23/2011 2:15 am

    Nicely done. Thanks for sharing, Ho Ho Ho to you and the Bootie Boy…. 😉

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