I made a trip to my mom's house yesterday, one hundred and eighty peaceful miles roundtrip. For a Midwest December day, it was magnificent. The air was balmy and fresh. The sun was vibrant and aglow from its rising until its setting over the humble Indiana farmland. The trees, dressed in their winter wardrobe, waiting for a coat of snow, softly held crisp paper brown leaves at the tips of their branches. Traffic was light, moving in the flow with the last splendid days of fall, keeping the hustle and bustle of a nearing holiday at bay. Like a leaf that rhythmically flies to earth when the wind snatches it from a lofty branch, so was the movement of the day.
When I enter my mom's house these days, more and more of her are gone. Bocelli has long been unplugged. Her bowls of pasta are digested now as memories. The cardinals that once flew to feed before her kitchen window have found a new location to satisfy their hunger. It has been a steady process clearing her belongings and preparing her home for the next person who will choose it for their next phase of life. Her dining room furniture is the last significant piece of my mom left in the house.
The purpose of my trip was to meet a few men who were picking up this dining room set to bring it back to Chicago for me, a set of furniture that almost got away. Never, in all the days of my life, did I think I would ever see this set of furniture find a place in my own home. It's from the '60s or '70s. The hutch has a voice of its own. Burly, bulky, and grand, its walnut body houses glass shelves within leaded glass doors. A smaller sideboard has a more subtle presence with aged patina hardware and beautiful keys that add to its character. Cane back dining chairs accompany an oval table, a shape my mom never did like. It's a lot of wood, well crafted from an age when quality mattered, and home entertaining was alive with an individual's personality and style.
No one in my family wanted this set, and we discussed selling it. Even though I don't have dining room furniture, I didn't think I wanted it. I wasn't completely attached to it despite having fond memories of the meals, holidays, and entertaining my mom shared at her table. But where would we take it? Who would want something like this in today's age where simplicity, minimalism, and neutrality are all the rage for a home atmosphere. By some. But not all. It was as if the fairies of lost treasures came into my mom's house one day when I sat staring at this dining room set, setting visions in my mind of what these pieces could be. The more I looked into trying to get rid of it, the more ideas and options came into my path to keep it.
Things of the past are not dead. The movement of salvaging mid-century and old quality-made furniture is alive and well. Antiquities, even when bulky, are a grand treasure to savor. The oval table is desirable. The dining room has not all but disappeared, and neither has its characteristics.
Characteristics are conversation pieces.
Conversation invites the telling of stories.
Stories bring us together.
Togetherness creates traditions.
Traditions are a priceless value.
Memories are a treasure to be shared.
New beginnings are a hope for the future.
I almost let my mom's dining room set be orphaned. But after not rushing through the decision to part ways with it, I have surprised myself with the excitement of holding on to something I never dreamed of keeping. As I waited for the men to show up yesterday, I ate my breakfast at my mom's table, remembering so many things. I realized this would be my last meal at the table as it has been. I reminisced about the Thanksgiving dinners in my childhood home, where my dad carved the turkey as relatives gathered around. I could hear the shelves of china and glass crash into each other as they once had for an unknown reason when I was about eight years old. I could see the makeshift bedroom my parents tried to create for my grandfather and him resting in a bed next to this furniture after my grandmother died. I remembered all the times in this current house my mom walked me through her china cabinet, telling me the story behind each teacup and each estate sale where she found each piece of china or cut glass which she loved.
As the sun poured through the window and the sunny walls surrounded me and the emptied furniture and silent chairs, I felt my mom's spirit living in the hospitality that exists within these pieces. The atmosphere was warm. The energy was bright. The experience of this solo meal was so extraordinary. I thought about how she would be delighted that the life of her dining room table will continue, always with the invitation to host her family. That perhaps I will fall in love with the shape of the table she wasn't crazy about would bring her joy. The future meals shared with my friends with the element of hospitality that I learned from her would make her eyes dance with pleasure.
For what has been and what is to come and the holiness of it all. This table and its accompaniments where my mom fed so many and used love as the centerpiece. How happy I am that I didn't let it slip away.