Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Our dining room table

When my daughter was in high school, she coined the expression, "FWP." It's an acronym for "first world problem." These are the kinds of problems that would mystify a third world person. Problems like bad haircuts. Incompetent waiters. Cancelled yoga classes. Bones in the chilean sea bass. An FWP is the kind of nuisance you are almost two embarrassed to complain about in the face of Aids, Katrina, waterboarding, global warming, gender apartheid and whatever the heck is happening to poor Brittney. Unfortunately, as much as we wanted to help our daughter popularize "FWP", it never took outside of our immediate family.

My FWP is our dining room table.

Once upon a time before our children were even born, my husband and I shelled out for a round, antique Eastlake dining room table we could barely afford. Its top formed a perfect circle that could seat four or five. The table had a chunky, intricately carved pedestal base as thick as a medium-sized tree, and you could pull that base wide enough apart to accommodate four leaves and at least twelve diners.

Unless there was something addictive on TV, we ate at that table every night. My parents shared many a Sunday meal with us. Visiting family joined us for dinner - my sister and her husband and children, my grandmother, and my grandfather and mother in law who have both since passed away. On that table, I triumphantly served up elaborate Christmas dinners I had slaved over for days- turkey, osso bucco, cassoulet with home made duck confit. Covered with old newspapers, the table became a workspace on which to make a diorama of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, a model of the Viet Nam war memorial or a paper mache mask. Children did, or pretended to do, their homework on it. That table was the setting for perfectly planned soirees and totally unexpected arguments. With the lights dimmed, it became center stage for candlelit birthday cakes that glowed brighter with each passing year. With all four leaves in place, it offered up a gargantuan spread for my daughter's high school graduation party. Over the years, we refinished the tabletop two or three times, but the inevitable scratch or glue stain only added to its character.

Then, we decided to move to a better school district. Our new place was a loft-like vertical urban town home with no real formal dining room. The designated eating area was long and narrow, and there wasn't room for a massive oak table. We were downsizing anyway, and putting our piano and some excess furniture up for auction. I told myself it was stupid to get attached to things, that the table would be too expensive to store, that I'd probably never use it again. I think I actually convinced myself that jettisoning my beloved table would be a character-building experience, sort of like painting over your self-portrait and starting again.

We went to a modern French furniture store and bought a long rectangular glass table for the long rectangular dining area. My sister, who used to have a glass table herself, warned me. You can't refinish scratches on a glass top, and your table cloth slides right off. You'll spend your time cleaning it and if you put your bread down for a second, it tastes like windex when you pick it back up. But the the table was chic and sleek and fit the space perfectly, and I promised my husband I'd be the designated table cleaner.

2007 turned out to be a tumultuous year for our family. We were in the town home for little more than a year before deciding to move to the Bay Area. The new glass table, it seemed, was an omen: its catalogue name is "Golden Gate" , like the bridge. And when moving time came, the darn thing was about as easy to take apart and move and put back together as its San Francisco name sake.

Now, the table stands in the middle of the rental house dining room. It's starting to wobble a bit and needs to be reassembled, which would require the assistance of two Olympic weightlifters. The glass top is getting a little scratched up because the dog likes to jump up on it when we're not paying attention. It's such a pain in the butt to clean, my husband uses two place mats when he eats to avoid spillage. Since the dining area opens onto the kitchen, new condensation stains form on the glass underside every time I boil water. And unlike the inclusive roundness of its predecessor, Golden Gate's long boardroom rectangularity never lets us forget that there's just two of us for dinner.

So there you have it. My FWP. It's still one sharp looking piece of modern design. And yes, we put plenty of good and occasionally well-prepared First World food on that table and the candles we light are for atmosphere, not necessity. I'm grateful for all that, but I still miss our old oak table. There was just so much history between us.


BonVoyager said...

Hey! I'm still working on getting FWP in the vernacular. Give it time.

Henry said...

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