At the Table

When I was ten years old, I got it into my head that I wanted the kitchen table set. All the time, just like in a restaurant, ready for the next meal. We couldn’t afford to eat in restaurants, so I wanted to create the restaurant atmosphere at home.

I carefully aligned the plate and flatware. I placed the glass upside down. It was short-lived. My mom thought all this was nonsense and insisted that everything remain neatly in the cabinets. She preferred the table be adorned with one of her lace doilies and an ornately painted soup terrine we never actually used for soup, but rather as a spot to store loose change.

I loved the anticipation of the next gathering. Having a table set was ripe with possibility.

Later, when I hosted epic meals, including a short-lived supper club, my mother and I (and then my husband) would set the table with our finest porcelain and embroidered linens. My husband learned to set the flatware and assorted glasses — water, white, red — with the same precision you would expect for a state dinner.

Source: White House Historical Association

It breaks my heart that some pundits predict the end of the dining table. I can think of few things more depressing than eating a meal on the couch. Actually, I can: eating a meal in bed when you’re perfectly healthy. In the two homes I’ve owned, I had kitchen counters where we could eat seated on a stool. That seemed a reasonable, civilized in-kitchen alternative. Never, even when I lived alone, did I eat meals on the sofa.

Our new apartment doesn’t have a formal dining room. The eating area is just off the open kitchen, a sort of ambitious breakfast nook. It will seat four comfortably and up to six cozily.

But at least it’s within serving distance of the kitchen, unlike virtually every apartment I looked at before we bought this one. Here, kitchens are an afterthought. They are dark, hidden corners where domestic workers traditionally labored to serve the family. In the earlier days, many people didn’t even have kitchens. They ate dinner every day in taverns, or tabernas.

In California, I have stored a stunning hand-rubbed dark walnut table that, with the leaves in place, seats 12 people comfortably. The ornate legs are reminiscent of Spanish Revival style. It’s been host to some of my fondest memories.

I had paired with it eight chairs from a mid-priced furniture store. They were made of dark twisted wood and covered in beige chenille with nail heads trimming the edges. The springs squeaked, so there would be a squeaky symphony as guests sat down. I sold the chairs when we moved from San Francisco.

But I kept the table. When I originally bought it, I had mentioned it would be the table to last a lifetime. An heirloom piece, even if we have no heirs.

I’ll likely have to part with this piece of art as it’s unlikely I’ll ever live in a home where it makes any sense. Holding on to it means holding on to a part of my life that, frankly, ended with our move here. It seems that the days of my congenial gatherings and multiple courses are over. And with them, the anticipation and possibility of setting a fancy table.

The question to ponder is “what comes next?”

Photo by Karen Sewell on Unsplash

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