Early in our marriage, my husband and I opened a B&B, where we set the dining room up with individual tables for two, on the assumption that most people don’t want to talk to total strangers first thing in the morning.
When we moved, we sold all the tables in a yard sale.
Our next house had a lovely, sunny dining room that I was really looking forward to having dinner parties in, so we were on the hunt for some kind of table.
One night my mother called. “I’ve found it!” she said, laughing. “Check the flier!” naming an upscale furniture store that we had never even been to, let alone bought anything in.
Conversation over, I flipped through the flier, eager to see the monstrosity that had given my mother such a giggle.
And there it was: travertine base, glass top, seated ten comfortably. Eight hundred dollars. Which in 1988 dollars was even more money than it is today.
“Oh,” I said to Alan in dismay. “I kind of like it.”
The next day, we went to the store and had a look at it. “It’s really nice…” I said.
“We did just make some money…” he said.
“And we’ll have it forever…” Because this, we were sure, was our forever home.
So we bought the silly thing.
A few days later, three men in white cotton gloves delivered it and set it up in our dining room. We weren’t used to this kind of treatment. The furniture we were used to buying came in a flat box and required us to put it together ourselves.
“You should get many years of service out of this,” said one of the men, giving it a final, reverent polish.
It was a very nice table. And hosted some very nice meals, including an Easter brunch that I set up purely so that I could try out a recipe for marbled eggs.
A year later, Alan was accepted into Chef School and we sold our forever home and moved to Stratford. Into an attic apartment. With very steep stairs.
We should have sold the table.
And if we’d had any idea just how many times we’d be moving over the next few years, we would have. But we’d paid a lot of money for it. And we had dreams of the perfect dinners we could host around it, so we hung on.
That first apartment at least had room for our massive table. Which suffered a small unfortunate accident in the move and now had a chip in the glass.
So when we moved out of the apartment and into a small house with no room for dinners for ten, we took it apart and stored the pieces in the basement because we’d paid a lot of money for it and now with the chip, we’d never get near what it was worth if we sold it and besides, we still kind of liked it and hoped to move to a place where we could set it up and enjoy it.
In the meantime, we ate off of and shared dinner around a small, slightly wonky drop-leaf table that you had to be careful not to lean too heavily on one end of.
Just over a year later, we moved again.
In that particular year, we moved three (THREE!) times. Carting that albatross of a table with us every time because the sunk costs of both our time and money were now so huge we were pretty much chained to it for life.
At least in the next two apartments, we were able to set it up and use it. But both of those places had carpeting and let me tell you if you’re ever thinking of getting yourself lashed to a travertine-based, glass-topped table for more money than makes any kind of sense?
They’re a little wobbly on carpeting.
People would regularly ask if we still had the stupid thing and what were we planning to do with it? We didn’t know.
Maybe we’d bury it.
Finally, we bought our second B&B. It had a beautiful dining room with French doors opening onto the garden. And, despite our belief that no one should have to make polite conversation with total strangers without a few gallons of coffee inside them, we decided to go with the big table for our guests.
It was going to be soooo lovely.
Vindication was at last in sight. All the years of carting that table around like an embarrassing relative were finally going to pay off.
I stood on the driveway in happy anticipation.
As Alan and a friend were taking it off the truck, the tabletop slipped out of Alan’s hands, hit the metal edge of the truck and shattered into a thousand pieces.
So we were back to individual tables for our guests.
And actually, these were a cool design, with a top that folded and pivoted, to open out from a table for two to a table for four.
One night, when we were getting ready to move on from that B&B (feeling dizzy yet?), we opened them all up and set them up as one long table for more than a dozen and had a wonderful farewell dinner.
By the end of the meal, some of our guests were singing show tunes, which has to be one of the signs of a truly successful dinner party.
We sold those tables with the B&B and spent the next several years waffling back and forth on what made the perfect dining room table.
I like the thought of a long table with platters of food passed up and down amid sparkling conversation.
It looks gorgeous in photos.
But what ends up happening in real life is that the people in the middle of the table get stuck between conversations, which they frantically try to keep up with, but end up missing out on all the best bits.
And the people at the end miss out on seconds because the people in the middle are so busy trying to keep up with the conversations that they forget to pass the food.
Round tables are better for conversation.
But if you’re a couple who only sometimes has a crowd for dinner, you don’t want anything too big or you feel like you’re sneaking a meal in a boardroom.
A round table that expands to an oval is good.
We looked and tried and swapped out tables every couple of years hoping for the magic, perfect table that would tick all the boxes and at this point, I didn’t even ask for it to look good, as long as it supported good food and good times.
Looking back, I realize that I needn’t have worried as much as I did that our tables weren’t right.
Some of the best gatherings we’ve had have been at cobbled-together tables.
Or the one we had while renting a short-term furnished apartment. The table itself was fairly flimsy. And way too close to the stove, so that when Alan needed to open the oven door, we all had to shift.
We were the only ones who noticed, I think. Our friends were enjoying each others’ company and the food.
We did eventually find our ‘perfect’ table. It’s round and opens up to seat ten comfortably and twelve in a pinch. The leaf folds up and stores inside the table,which is handy in a small apartment.
It’s ugly as hell but it’s sturdy.
People sort of notice it, but what they really notice, what they come to our home for, is the welcome they receive. The fact that we want them here, want to share a meal with them and hear all about what’s happening in their lives means far more than the food we serve or the table we serve it on.
I mean, I’m all about good food. I love trying out new recipes and serving yummy things. But hospitality is about so much more than taste, either sensory or aesthetic.
It’s about heart and warmth.
It’s about love.
And that, thankfully, is available to everyone, no matter their surroundings or skill in the kitchen.
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