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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.
Twenty years ago this Friday, I went out for a meal to celebrate my birthday with my family. My eighteen year old had graduated from high school that spring and was looking forward to starting college. My two other children had just started their new school year in 4th and 7th Grade.
We enjoyed a light-hearted and happy evening together.
The next morning the phone rang early. My default was oh no. A thud of dread. When you live in California and your relatives are in England, that ring at that hour will do that.
It was my mother-in-law calling from Los Angeles, panic high her voice.
‘Have you heard the news?’
‘Put CNN on, a plane’s crashed into the World Trade Centre.’
A what? Where? I’m not a morning person. Her words jumbled around my foggy brain.
It was a school morning, but with time to spare before rousing the children. I padded over to the living room, clicked the remote and turned on the TV.
Breaking news from New York flashed across the screen. A reporter was interviewing a firefighter, smoke and flames billowing in the distance. A plane had crashed into the North Tower. I barely had time to register this unimaginable disaster as what sounded like another plane in the background, the engine hum growing louder. It sounded low, too low. Something about it…something ominous. There, in full view on the screen, flying towards the South Tower.
My God, it’s going in…
One might be an accident. But two? Two is an attack.
My hands flew to my mouth. My audible gasp brought my children running. Their world, our world, forever changed. I sunk into the sofa, overcome by what next. And with wide-eyed horror we watched the unthinkable when one tower, then the other, collapsed.
The phone rang again. This time it was my mother calling to wish me a belated happy birthday, as arranged. It was afternoon in the UK, she had been out with a friend and hadn’t heard the news. I broke it to her.
Then I remembered; my brother worked for Virgin Airlines and was piloting a Boeing 747 from Gatwick in London to Orlando, Florida that day. Families with children heading excitedly to Disneyworld.
We figured he was probably half way there by then. Concern for his whereabouts and safety dominated our conversation.
We had no contact after that phone call for three days. Our phone lines and internet went down, I was cut off from them all. All I could do was hope and pray that my brother, his crew, and passengers were all safe.
When communication was restored, he called me and relayed his story.
He got the call from air traffic control not to enter US airspace under any circumstances. He was not told why, only that he should divert to Canada. He gleaned from London what had happened, and factoring in the amount of fuel they had left, made the immediate decision to turn the plane around and fly back to Gatwick.
Nobody knew what other attacks might be forthcoming. His primary concern was to get everyone safely back home. And that’s exactly what he did.
Turn off satellite communications on board and keep everyone calm, he instructed the crew. If passengers got wind of what was going on in New York, they might panic. Children cried and parents demanded an explanation, but a riot was averted,
Once back on British soil, he gave an announcement to his passengers. Relief and gratitude swept over them. Their holidays at Disneyworld would have to wait. It wasn’t important right now.
But that day took its toll on my brother. I saw a change in him, after 9/11.
I emigrated from the UK to the US in 1986. For many years, handwritten letters were my main form of communication with my family. There were no international calling plans, the internet, emails and face-time. Twenty years since 9/11 and my experience is meagre in comparison to the incalculable carnage and tragedy suffered by too many. Yet, those three days cut off from my family not having any news of my brother is something I’ll never forget.
It is always the not knowing that is the worst, I find.
The two decades I lived in California seem fleeting now. That birthday dinner was long ago, yet my children remember it clearly because of the day after. We all live in the UK now.
To say I am grateful spending my upcoming birthday with them is an understatement.
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 beautiful black kitties. Her 2021 entry to Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize was shortlisted and also received a special mention at Spread the Word Life Writing Prize. She is working hard to bring her debut memoir to publication.