It happened on a day etched forever in my mind.
I had gone back-to-school shopping for my children at J C Penny’s. A small furniture display on the way to the checkout caught my eye.
No. It stopped me short in my tracks.
Heart racing, I rushed over. I ran my hand across the smooth, gleaming surface of the object before me. I had dreamed of this moment for years and years.
It was love at first sight.
I had to have it.
There it was, the dining table of my dreams.
You see, in my then ten years of married life, I had never had my own. I was a British mum of three married to an American. When I emigrated from the UK to California, my mother-in-law loaned us a green, glass-topped cast iron table, a ton in weight and meant for the garden.
A lifetime loan, it turned out: she didn’t want it back.
I covered it with a tablecloth made with blue, floral material and lace edging I purchased from another of my loves: Wal Mart’s fabric section. Pretty enough and a good-sized table, but it had its problems.
Not least of all, when a friend brought her little boy over to play and he bumped his head on the corner. He screamed, blood dripped (as head wounds do) and our friendship, if you can call it that, was never quite the same…
It had to go, but we couldn’t afford a replacement.
That table at J C Penney’s was everything I wanted: light oak and oval with a pedestal and removable centre panel. It had six matching chairs and a matching glass-fronted dresser. And best of all, when I dared glimpse the price tag, I could hardly believe it.
Two words and large letters in red danced before me: On Sale.
I enquired at the counter. They had an interest-free payment plan on offer. Numbers bounced around in my head. We could afford it, just, by my figuring. I had it all worked out and presented my case to my then husband.
‘You should be a lawyer,’ he said.
And so my beloved dining set arrived at our home and reported for duty.
Children’s birthday, tea, and Tupperware parties, baby showers, pancake breakfasts and pot-roast dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the everyday of family life filled its chairs and space for years to come.
It hosted family games, silly and serious, a fair share of debates, good moods and bad and much rib-cracking laughter. Cheers with a raised glass of bubbly or two with those I have loved and always will.
And honouring those forever lost, remembered still.
My table has graced every one of my homes. It came with me to England when I left California many years ago. Sadly, and due to lack of room in one house, it sat in the garage for a few years.
My eldest son brought it out of storage for a brief time for his house share, post-university. It was already a bit rough around the edges by then, I figured a few more knocks wouldn’t hurt.
In fact, the thought of it with him brought me comfort.
My table came home when he moved again, none the worse for wear. Unlike a certain futon and mattress pushed around from son to son, leant to friends and like the bad situation where it landed, better left behind.
And when I moved house again four years ago, my table left the garage for a dining room once again. Thirty-two years since that star-studded day at J C Penney’s in California, and there it sits today in my home in England.
The top part of the dresser has long gone, damaged by its time in storage, but the lower part now belongs in my living room. It keeps candles, wine glasses and Christmas brandy.
Not only food and countless elbows have graced my table. A table is a table, after all. Kitty loves padding across it, especially this time of year. All those Christmas delights just for her, and a quick pose for her trouble.
She will have a wait this year, however. My table is presently loaded up with numerous kitchen parts as we undergo a major renovation.
But that’s the beauty of photos. They don’t show the clutter.
Which leads me to ask: if furniture could talk, what would my table say?
I think to you it would say Happy Holidays.
And to me, I hope, thanks for the good times.
Now let’s make some more.
Sherri’s non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry are published in magazines, anthologies and online at her blog. As a young mum of three, she emigrated from the UK to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England’s West Country with her family and two black cats. She is working hard to bring her debut memoir to publication.
Such glad tidings, from across the pond!
Good furniture is a lot like fine literature; its cracks and scrapes fill with rich stories and memories!
Indeed…love that! Thank you, Liz!
Happy Holidays, lovely. Our homes, and all inside them, hold memories. Glad this one is full of good ones. 🎄🌟
And all *items* inside the homes. Gah. You get it. 😉
I get it 🙂
And to you, thank you Sarah!
You remind me of two Cherry (dark wood) pieces I have. One is a single piece hutch, upper cabinet lower doors and draws and a buffet (5 doors, one side two doors has three draws, the other side two doors has one draw and two shelves. The center has a half shelf – for glasses, I guess bottles where supposed to go in the front. Though I’ve changed around what I store in both of those pieces now). Both were boutht at different times (and I’ve had both for about forty years). I was able to get them because others were renovating or moving – so I got a very good deals.
I used to tease and for a good long while it was true that all of my furnature was ‘Early-In-Law”. I still have a few of those pieces that I’d like to trade out.
May your holidays be merry and bright! And have a Happy New Year too!
Hi Jules! I forgot about “hutch”. I trip over my American and British words, not knowing what’s what half the time! And buffet…also sideboard here I just remembered lol. Your cherry wood piece sounds beautiful and what history. Sometimes I think of trading out the table and cabinet, but would be sad to see them go after all these years. They are the last of those pieces from my life in California with my family.
Thank you, Jules, and I send you the very same merry, bright Christmas wishes and here’s to new for 2022! 🙂
Happy hols, Sherri! Here’s to a lovely family gathering at the table.
To you also, Jo and thank you! Has to be better than last year… 🙂
like you we have our first and only dining room table, bought in a furniture repository in Clapham Junction circa 1985. The fabric seats look a bit manky, the glue needs a constant top up or the more substantial the guest the more likely the chair might re-kit itself and we’ve had to have one of the casters replaced when it developed a hernia. But it and all who’ve sailed around it, like yours, have left a miasma of memories for others who follow. Indeed in a week or so, our daughter will gather with her school girlfriends for a Christmas dinner that has happened here since 2009, save for Covid’s grinchism last year. The numbers have fluctuated – topping 25 in the first three years and as they’ve more off to university and other lives to a core of ten now. No other halves, no parents, just a mighty cook-a-thon, hilarity and love. The perfect compliment to a table. Thank you Sherri for reminding me of ours; it’s easy to take the old thing for granted….
What a wonderful tradition! I know what you mean, my table is well worn and a few of the chairs are a bit creaky, glued in part over the years. Mine, however, need chair pads. I’ve replaced several sets over the years, but up until this move, I had the same ones I brought with me from the US. They’re red-checked apple pie design, real Americana and I love them. They got somewhat worn, but four of them are still in good shape and are now on the kitchen chairs. Our boy cat Eddie (15) has slept on them since we first brought him home at 8 weeks. So even those pads hold special memories. Some items have to go as the years go by, sadly, but not those… Thanks, Geoff, glad to remind you… Happy Christmas!
You should take them to the repair shop…
Lovely post Sherri and sweet picture of your Christmas kitty.
Your table has become a keepsake, layered with warm memories and shared experiences. Having moved across the big pond myself, I can understand what joy that piece of furniture brings you. I had to leave all the big items behind in London when I came back here in 1997, but happily other items followed me home, including an antique Japanese mirror stand and many treasured dishes. When I use those things today, that part of my life comes alive again. Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Solstice.
Thank you, Jeanne! Had to put Christmas Kitty in there somewhere 🙂 I do indeed know what it’s like leaving big items behind. Hard decisions, those. I am intrigued by your Japanese mirror stand, I bet it’s beautiful! And I know excatly what you mean about those powerful associations with treasured items. I have two American pie dishes my one time mother in law gave me in 1980. They have survived every domestic move and hop across the pond. It’s been a while since I last used them, but what memories they spark of those early family years… And isn’t it funny, Jeanne? You returned from London in 1997 and a few years later, I left CA and came back here. Yet here we are, crossing paths, thanks to the internet. I’m so glad you have such great memories of your time in London. I think of you, when I’m there 🙂
Sherri, yes isn’t it grand that although we’ve never met in person we have connected here and resonated with each other’s experiences. I know we’d fall into a long and easy chat if we ever did find ourselves in the same locale…sharing stories of California (I lived in LA from 1980-1988) and England.
Your pie dishes sound like a real treasure indeed! For me something similar would be a sea-green milk glass gravy boat I bought at an eclectic little cafe in Crouch End in London…the place was all mismatched chairs and vintage crockery with old silver plate cutlery. It comes out every Thanksgiving and Christmas, the only time I make gravy these days.
So thank you for that memory!
And who knows?! Maybe we will meet one day… maybe at a writing retreat with Charli!
And Merry Christmas and Happy Solstice to you and yours also!
“Sea-green milk glass gravy boat”… Gorgeous! I love those antique shops and cafes in London. I also love milk glass and believe it or not, have a platter in white milk glass I only ever use for the turkey at Christmas…purchased in CA! As for LA, I lived and worked there in downtown, 1980 to 1981, went back in 1986. One of these days, Jeanne, I am sure we shall meet and what better place than at a writing retreat with Charli! Holiday hugs right back atcha!
Hoping your table continues to host many meaningful meals. Happy holidays, Sherri.
Thank you, Anne, and to you also!
On Sale. You had no choice but to purchase that table. I enjoyed hearing of its stories since that day. Makes me wonder when my parents got their table, one they seem to have always had and still do. ( I’ll ask her today!) Happy holidays. May your table continue to serve you well.
Exactly! I saw that sign and that was it! Glad you enjoyed it, thank you, Dee, and the very same to you and your parents’ table 🙂
I’ve never thought of the tales a table could tell, just the walls. You’ve got me looking all about my home thinking of the age and places some of the furniture has lived and survived. In one cupboard there are two hand-made Wombles that were probably bought at the Bury St Edmonds market just in time for a long-ago Christmas. (they are characters from an English children’s TV show that aired in the 19970’s) Thank you for the walk down memory lane. Merry Christmas. My kids still talk about Boxing Day too. Hugs.
Aww Sue, and you in turn have brought back memories for me from the early 70s of having “tea” after school and watching the Wombles on TV, humming the song as I type this. Now that takes me back! I bet yours are worth something now 🙂 Bury St Edmunds is a place I know very well as you know, and I love that your kids still remember Boxing Day! It’s the same with mine, except in their case, it’s Thanksgiving 🙂 As I’ve said many times, we could talk all day…and night! Merry Christmas hugs to you!
That table was destined to be a part of your life, to contain the stories of elbows, paws, and delights that touched its wood. Funny, but I know EXACTLY what table set that is! 32 years ago, I dreamed of one day owning such a set, and one later day I found a lone chair from that set at a garage sale. Lovely post, and such a clever technique of memoir to let a piece of furniture transport us into your world. Merry Christmas!
Charli, I got chills reading that! Funny, when hubby and I are watching American dramas (which we love, of course!), he will often point out “my” table and chairs in the scene. Do you still have that lone chair? That style is so quintessentially American and that’s why I love it so much! I never dreamed of such a dining set in all my life. So you bet I brought it back with me to the UK. I had to let go of a lot when I left, but not that. No way! Thank you, Charli, I’m glad you enjoyed it. As have I, writing for this column, reflecting and thinking. Here’s to new for 2022 in every way. I am chomping at the bit to flash again! Merry Christmas to you!
Hi Sherri, this is a lovely story about your table. We also didn’t have a dining room table for a long time after we got married. We used a plastic garden table for a number of years, loaned by my sister-in-law. She never got it back. Have a wonderful festive period and all the best for 2022.
Thank you, Robbie, so glad you enjoyed it. Ha…seems I wasn’t the only one with garden furniture in the dining room! Likewise to you and your family, a very Happy Christmas and let’s hope for a good 2022.
Oh, Sherri, your talk of JC Penney and furniture buying has brought back a flood of memories. My first piece of furniture came from Penney’s! It was a stereo cabinet (my priorities needed some maturing lol). It sounds like your table was well-loved and a special part of your family. I’m glad to hear it has returned to the heart of your home!
Hi Theresa! Lol, love your priorities! And love that we both shopped at J C Penney! I adored that store, obviously 😉 😀 Thank you so much, and a very Happy Christmas to you and your family and see you in 2022! 🙂
[…] remains. Will they steal Christmas away like last year? I cannot bear to think of it. In Table Talk, my end of year Memoir Across The Pond post at Carrot Ranch, I did not dare mention […]