My mother’s table followed me around for years: From her house in northern New Jersey, to my studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side after she died; then, ultimately, to my condo in Taos, New Mexico. It was as if that table and I were tethered to each other, as if we’d become friends.
My mother loved that table deeply. It was where our family of six gathered each evening at six o’clock to eat her lovingly prepared meals. Cooking was an art form for her, and she excelled at it. It was one of the ways she tried to make her unhappy husband happy, one of the ways she tried to keep him from leaving.
Meanwhile, I would sit at my place at that table, which was always to the right of him, thinking, Dinnertime would be so much nicer here without him. Why doesn’t he just go and eat somewhere else? But I knew the answer to that question even then: Because he couldn’t find better food anywhere else.
He was an angry man. In addition to his frequent ugly outbursts and dramas at that table, he always placed his ash tray between his plate and mine and smoked during dinner. So his cigarette fumes wafted in my direction. I learned to close my ears and hold my breath while eating. If I complained, I knew he’d give me a knuckle sandwich.
That dinner table was a wedding gift to my parents when they married in the late 1930s. “Solid maple!” my mother often enthused. “They don’t make tables like this anymore!” It was blond (“like my three little girls,” she would boast), rectangular, with rounded corners — an Art Deco design. Sturdy. Made to last forever.
When she died in 1984, I couldn’t part with my mother’s beloved table, so I took it to live with me in New York. It was my solid connection to her. (“Solid maple!” I’d hear her voice every time I glanced at it.) It was my everything table – writing, sewing, drawing, eating, or just sitting and watching the golden sun sink below the Hudson. That table gave me a small sense of solidity in an otherwise tumultuous city.
After a stint in storage, while I lived and worked in Africa for five years, my mother’s table came to live with me in Taos and took pride of place in my one-bedroom condo there. Again, it anchored me, and provided a feeling of continuity and endurance. I could understand why my mother had loved it so – its strong, smooth legs; sturdy body; and pretty, eternally young-looking wood. I seldom had dinner parties in Taos, but when I did I was proud to serve those meals at my mother’s Art Deco table.
But (there is always a BUT, isn’t there?), when it came time to emigrate to Mexico, that table and I had to part ways. The couple from Colorado who bought my little condo as their pied-a-terre in Taos wanted to buy it fully furnished, and I needed to keep my move to Mexico light. Did the table – which by this time I had anthropomorphized – understand the reasons for my abandonment? Did the couple from Colorado ever learn the table’s history? No, I’m afraid not. I had to turn the page. My mother, I felt sure, would have understood.
I’ve lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, now for seven years – in various rental apartments — with other peoples’ overstuffed furniture, other people’s ideas of art on the walls, other people’s dining tables. But that is about to change. Early next year I hope to move into a lovely little apartment (now under construction) that I can call my own and furnish my way. Beginning with the table.
I knew my dining table had to be round – signifying to me hospitality and an open embrace. It had to be strong, with a solid, sturdy, central base. It had to look timeless.
For weeks I’d been hunting for a table that pleased me, finally finding one online that looked promising. But instead of ordering that one, I took its photo and specifications to a Mexican carpenter whom I know and admire. This craftsman, Orlando, made my table for me with care and love. I think of it as one of a kind. It is mine. I couldn’t be happier with it. I couldn’t love a table more.
My new table will never know the sound of angry outbursts nor the weight of an ugly ash tray. This table will be the heart of my new home. It will be where I’ll serve beautiful food to my friends whenever possible and where we’ll make delicious memories together.