Jun 27, 2004

Elbows on the tabe
My first lesson in the aesthetics of imperfection

Down on a violent double-curve in the too narrow road between here and the used-book store, a house juts out of the hills and trees to the pikeway and, today, had a table in the drive way with black sign saying FREE. Medium brown maple and four feet square, plain and worn, stain wearing through in the center, corners worn shiny by elbows, I turned around and shook it a little for sturdiness and took it, turned it upside down in the bed of my truck and took it home. It’s in the kitchen now, hanging lamp shining on the mellow brown, my arms resting on the firmness of real wood beneath the wall of friends photos and the county map with Orthodox churches marked by pins.

If I try and tell you about my family, I’ll probably tell you about our table and how we talked through every meal telling stories or doing theology and passing giant pots of noodles and serving from a massive centerpiece of a salad in a steel restaurant-sized bowl, how we’d always all eat together, loud and hand waving, and after dinner we’d ignore the towering dishes to tip back our chairs and talk. I’d probably forget, though, to tell you about the table itself.

My mom got it from her mom, the one year we knew her mom, when we lived in the Northern California suburbs. If furniture can shock, then this table shocked us. “What happened,” we said, standing in the kitchen a little amazed and confused, wondering if we should be frightened. “It’s distressed,” Mom said. “It’s a style. But maybe we’ll refinish it. Sand it all down and make it nice.”

What it looked like though, was attacked and beaten. It looked like someone – my grandmother – had beaten her table with a chain, a hammer and a wrench. There were valleys and craters and rough wiggling trails stained a deep dark brown, looking, more than anything else, like a pocked and cratered moon flattened into a table. Mom covered it with a tablecloth, for a while, leaving tufts of the fuzzy underside caught in the table’s roughness. She never did refinish it. We packed it across the country to Texas and back again, took it up into the mountains and down, had it in the woods and the hills and the deserts and the valleys and finally North to the peninsula at the end of the world.

It seated six, officially, but officially doesn’t count corners and we all sat there. Dad at the head and Mom and Val and my two– four– six brothers with ever longer legs kicking each other, talking loud and laughing in the precursor to the family reunions we’ll have. Maybe distressed was a style, but I’ve never seen another piece of furniture that looked so beat and lived, ‘nother table abused out of a tidy polished Platonic perfection and occupied by forks and elbows.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll take a tire iron and a crow bar and beat on this table until it’s amazing, confusing and maybe ought to be scary. Maybe I’ll pound a Pollock into this table and soak the wounds with a can of wood stain as a testament to laughing stories with mouths full of food, loud theology over dinner and winters you can only afford rice.