The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. Laurie Colwin
Since finding Laurie Colwin’s words about table, I have viewed this piece of furniture in a different light. No longer do I visualize a flat surface with legs. I see the artistry of design and its many uses. No longer do I casually set the table for a meal. I create a party, a ritual of gratitude. No longer do I sit at a conference table thinking only of the business agenda. I consider this an opportunity to collaborate with others. This simple piece of furniture, found in our homes, businesses and virtually everywhere, has possibilities and potential not previously acknowledged. It is a meeting place where ideas are exchanged, faces are engaged, and food for both body and mind are consumed.
The space off our living room is designated for dining. In the center stands a two- toned table, its natural wood surface is complemented by a deep reddish stain on the turned legs. While this table extends to accommodate eight people, what I appreciate most is its normal size, a small square. This size supports a single diner in feeling complete and enough, not lonely at the table. How sad to sit by oneself at a table with multiple chairs and empty places. Quickly movies come to mind where an extensive stretch of table seats a husband at one end, the wife at the other. I delight in this small square shape that feels intimate and whole for one. My days lived as a single woman found solace at this table. Pushed up against the wall with a small lamp, this was a comforting and welcoming space. When this table moved into our marriage and Simplicity, Don and I found the small square shape was perfect for two diners.
Above the table hangs my great grandmother’s dining room lamp, a scalloped, flower petal design of marbled glass, edged with intricate metal filigree. I remember the many Sunday dinners at my great grandmother’s where focusing on the lamp’s details saved me from boredom while the adults talked. Passed down to me, this lamp seems well suited to this house. Perhaps they are even the same age. A signature piece of the dining room, Simplicity wears it like heirloom jewelry.
Our table is a busy and versatile place. At least once a week, Don and I challenge the other to a game of Qwirkle. Suddenly colorful tiles create designs on the table top and eyes scrutinize the opposing partner, guessing the next move. When the grandchildren are here, this is where we roll the Story Cubes and create adventures with each picture that finds its way on top. Here is where Don coaches his photography clients, giving plenty of space for two laptops to reside. This is where papers and projects, with room to spread out, can find a sense of order. And of course, meals happen here, too.
I carry on a family tradition where gathering together for meals was important. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were eaten sitting at a table where events of the day were shared along with a bowl of cereal, sandwiches, roast beef and potatoes. Manners were inserted into these daily doses of food. Please pass the peas instead of reaching across the table. Finish swallowing food before speaking. Wait to speak rather than interrupting.
My mother also instructed her children on the proper way to set a table. Knife and spoon on the right of the dinner plate, with the fork finding its place on the left. Napkins, next to the forks, were to be placed on the lap and used when fingers and mouths were sticky or in the company of food remnants. There was a protocol to be followed and mother, a graduate of finishing school as it was once called, was the master teacher.
While she was the one in charge of table etiquette, it was my father who delighted in beautifying the table. From small town Iowa, he loved the china and crystal departments of Chicago’s Marshall Field and Carson Pirie Scott. They were creative playgrounds for this man. A pattern of blue flowers on a white background or a geometric design in earth tones would catch his attention and home they would come. He also fancied having a centerpiece. Flowers from our garden were the most frequent. Various vases held a simple arrangement of roses, peonies, or iris, depending upon the growing season. As a child, I remember being intrigued with the heavy, nail like protrusion that sat at the bottom of the vase to securely hold the stems. This looked nothing like a frog to me. In the fall, Indian corn and gourds decorated the table and each major holiday was acknowledged in some way. Dad made the table festive. For years, I thought this was the doing of my mother, only to find it continued long after her death.
Each time I set Simplicity’s table, I am reminded of my mother’s teachings and my father’s love of the ascetic. Eating most of our meals in the dining room, away from the kitchen, helps to make an everyday happening feel special and intentional. A single candle easily creates a centerpiece. Alternating the dinnerware from Aunt Dorothy’s red and white Spode’s Tower, to the creamy Wedgewood, to contemporary pottery adds interest to the table. Each style gifts a different spirit to the meal.
I love thinking that when we gather around a table, whether for a meal or a meeting, it holds the possibility for this time to be a “source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety and satisfaction.” What if we understood safety as being free to speak and share our thoughts, of nourishment as being well fed with food and creative ideas, of festivity as joy and laughter, and satisfaction as peace of mind. What a place at the table this would truly be. Laurie Colwin’s words challenge and inspire me to prepare such a table every day.