Oddments

In search of story


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Home plates

It took me forever to find this house. Because I’m insufferably picky? Of course not. Rather because I have such bulky — not to be confused with valuable — possessions, including my parents’ dining room furniture, the stolidly 50s Duncan Phyfe set which requires a real dining room, one, in deference to logic, with a direct path to the kitchen.

In your dreams, Maureen. It ain’t happenin’. The dining room is the dinosaur: extinct, kaput.

But its vestige was there; I saw large closets called dining rooms. They held symbolic, skeletal tables and chairs and an occasional dining-room-ish piece but had no room for people. This conceptual remnant seemed a hopeful sign. So I kept looking.

Why?

Because I have three generations of dining finery. A formal table was once a part of life’s cycles, marking milestones, celebrating holidays. Polishing the silver, placing fragile plates, smoothing linen tablecloths were family ritual. When I set my dining room table, I mark those same cycles; the ritual lives, breathes, wordlessly inviting relatives long gone — and invisibly they come, teasing, huffing, sniping. (They never change.)

The first Thanksgiving here, my two very young grandchildren stopped mid-dash, their eyes latched to the table. I was thrilled to see their thrill. The table shone, not just with color and glint, but with memories. They didn’t know it, but they were seeing the ancestors who had preserved it all with the salt of good times and bad times.

That covered dish? Your great-great-grandmother’s. The stuffing in it? Your great-grandmother’s recipe. This armed chair? Your great-grandfather’s place, where he pronounced himself pater familias: the verbal selfie. My chair now.

My dining room is a family history museum with stains. Ghosts and grandchildren raise their goblets. L’chaim, dinosaur!