Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I have measured out my life in coffee spoons*

63 years
23,000 days
69,000 meals
138,000 cups of coffee
276,000 spoons of sugar

That about summarizes the life of my kitchen table.   It, along with four chairs and a hutch cabinet, was a  wedding gift from my grandparents to my parents in 1947.  It is solid maple, very traditional, “Early American,” and built to last.

I ate at this table every day of my life growing up. We moved a fair amount, so sometimes it was a dining room table and sometimes a kitchen table, but it was always a part of my life.  Since there were four chairs and five of us, the fifth chair never matched.  My family always ate dinner together and long after the meal was completed, my parents would sit, drinking coffee, telling endless stories; as kids, we were expected to sit patiently.  Exceptions were only made for homework.  Maybe that is why I worked so hard in school- it was the only way to escape what seemed like interminable reminiscing.  Of course,  now I really wish I had listened a little better. 

But a kitchen table is not just for eating.  I did homework and art projects there.  My mom used it to cut out fabrics to make my school clothes, at least as long as I would deign to wear homemade dresses.  Both of my parents did daily crossword puzzles at that table: the Hartford Courant, the New York Daily News.   My mom rolled out pie crusts and, once she took over the cookie baking responsibilities from my grandmother, Christmas cookies on that table.  We did puzzles, played cards and hundreds (thousands?) of games of checkers, Candy Land, and Chutes and Ladders.

There was laughter, but tears were also shed at that table.  Mine was a family that loved each other deeply, but erupted in anger a little too often.  Arguments broke out over that table, sometimes fierce and frightening, but reconciliations always followed, usually sitting around that table.

Of course, growing up, I never really noticed this table, it was simply there.  Like oxygen.

My Dad passed away a long time ago and the table remained in my mother’s kitchen.   When we visited her,  we usually sat at that table,  drank coffee, and talked.  And, boy, my mom could talk.  She and I would stay up late, just talking.  I can’t even remember what we talked about.  When I’d call her on the phone,  I knew she was sitting at the table, drinking even more coffee and surreptitiously working her crossword puzzle while talking to me.  (Occasionally, she’d forget herself, and ask “Hey, you’d know this.  What’s a six letter word for organic chemical, starting with k?”  “Ketone,” I’d reply, annoyed that I did not have her full attention.)

At some point, Mom decided she didn’t want the hutch cabinet in her apartment so it was moved to the damp basement and mildew damaged the wood.  With the passage of time, the table also showed signs of age- cigarette burns marred the top, lots of sitting derrieres wore the finish off the chairs, and the wood joints loosened.   

My mom died nearly two years ago.  When she died, I asked to keep the table, four chairs and hutch cabinet.  I am not really an “Early American” type, but I wanted to have  part of my family history in my own home.   Al asked if it would be too sad to have my family’s table occupying such a central space in our lives so soon after her death.   I wondered too.   But from the first day it was there, it felt like a warm blanket on a chilly night. Sitting in those chairs, I felt enveloped in comfort and very connected to my own history.

I sent the entire set out recently and had it refinished.  I told the furniture restorers to make the set look like it would have in 1947 when it was new.  They repaired cracks, completely refinished the wood and rebuilt those wobbly chairs.  I am certain that my parents would be glad to know that it has been repaired, refinished, and made ready for another 63 years.

It is solid maple, very traditional, “Early American” and built to last.   

Today I am grateful for my extended family that I see altogether too rarely.

*T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


  1. Your mom would be pleased.

  2. Lovely, Deb. Just lovely. I knew that table had to be special when I saw it the other night. One of the things I loved about your new kitchen is the built-in comfort of it. And I'm positive the table added to that ambience.

  3. Liana told me about your blog and I'm really enjoying it. May even do one myself someday.

    Rosalie Riegle

  4. J. Alfred is worth reading again ( and again) thanks for sending me back to it.

    What a wonderful thing to do with the family table, such a central part of our lives. Chutes and Ladders, Candyland! This entry is so filled with warm family, I am feeling it right now, thank you for sharing.

    will add your blog to mine if I can figure out how! Thanks for putting From the Creek on yours.