The Table

My mother’s table followed me around for years: From her house in northern New Jersey, to my studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side after she  died; then, ultimately, to my condo in Taos, New Mexico. It was as if that table and I were tethered to each other, as if we’d become friends.

My mother loved that table deeply. It was where our family of six gathered each evening at six o’clock to eat her lovingly prepared meals. Cooking was an art form for her, and she excelled at it. It was one of the ways she tried to make her unhappy husband happy, one of the ways she tried to keep him from leaving.

Meanwhile, I would sit at my place at that table, which was always to the right of him, thinking, Dinnertime would be so much nicer here without him. Why doesn’t he just go and eat somewhere else? But I knew the answer to that question even then: Because he couldn’t find better food anywhere else.

He was an angry man. In addition to his frequent ugly outbursts and dramas at that table, he always placed his ash tray between his plate and mine and smoked during dinner. So his cigarette fumes wafted in my direction. I learned to close my ears and hold my breath while eating. If I complained, I knew he’d give me a knuckle sandwich.

That dinner table was a wedding gift to my parents when they married in the late 1930s. “Solid maple!” my mother often enthused. “They don’t make tables like this anymore!” It was blond (“like my three little girls,” she would boast), rectangular, with rounded corners — an Art Deco design. Sturdy. Made to last forever.

When she died in 1984, I couldn’t part with my mother’s beloved table, so I took it to live with me in New York. It was my solid connection to her. (“Solid maple!” I’d hear her voice every time I glanced at it.) It was my everything table – writing, sewing, drawing, eating, or just sitting and watching the golden sun sink below the Hudson. That table gave me a small sense of solidity in an otherwise tumultuous city.

After a stint in storage, while I lived and worked in Africa for five years, my mother’s table came to live with me in Taos and took pride of place in my one-bedroom condo there. Again, it anchored me, and provided a feeling of continuity and endurance. I could understand why my mother had loved it so – its strong, smooth legs; sturdy body; and pretty, eternally young-looking wood. I seldom had dinner parties in Taos, but when I did I was proud to serve those meals at my mother’s Art Deco table.

But (there is always a BUT, isn’t there?), when it came time to emigrate to Mexico, that table and I had to part ways. The couple from Colorado who bought my little condo as their pied-a-terre in Taos wanted to buy it fully furnished, and I needed to keep my move to Mexico light. Did the table – which by this time I had anthropomorphized – understand the reasons for my abandonment? Did the couple from Colorado ever learn the table’s history? No, I’m afraid not. I had to turn the page. My mother, I felt sure, would have understood.

I’ve lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, now for seven years – in various rental apartments — with other peoples’ overstuffed furniture, other people’s ideas of art on the walls, other people’s dining tables. But that is about to change. Early next year I hope to move into a lovely little apartment (now under construction) that I can call my own and furnish my way. Beginning with the table.

I knew my dining table had to be round – signifying to me hospitality and an open embrace. It had to be strong, with a solid, sturdy, central base. It had to look timeless.

For weeks I’d been hunting for a table that pleased me, finally finding one online that looked promising. But instead of ordering that one, I took its photo and specifications to a Mexican carpenter whom I know and admire. This craftsman, Orlando, made my table for me with care and love. I think of it as one of a kind. It is mine. I couldn’t be happier with it. I couldn’t love a table more.

Orlando in his workshop last week, beside my just-finished table

My new table will never know the sound of angry outbursts nor the weight of an ugly ash tray. This table will be the heart of my new home. It will be where I’ll serve beautiful food to my friends whenever possible and where we’ll make delicious memories together.

64 thoughts on “The Table”

  1. Oh Bonnie I love this one……and I wish you much happiness in your new home with your beautiful table. I’m sure it was very hard to part with your Mom’s table though. I read all your blogs and enjoy them. Sorry I don’t comment more often. I still can see you so clearly…..that sweet, blonde girl I knew so very long ago. Merry Christmas to you……Pam

  2. Oh Bonnie, this is so sweet. If we are lucky enough to live in a house with “cosas” we love, we are reminded of who we are and the important moments of our lives. This is one reason I decided to “settle” in SMA —

  3. So beautiful! Saturate it with your love and light and it will become a blessing for you and others forever!

  4. Bonnie, Your story is just so lovely – worthy of multiple readings. And your table is just beautiful. May you enjoy making new memories around it. I have an idea for a table of my own. If your carpenter Orlando would like another commission, please let me know how to contact him. Cheers, Jade

    1. Thank you for writing, Jade. I appreciate your kind words. I don’t know Orlando’s availability, but I’m sure he would love to hear from you and you would enjoy connecting with him. His name is Orlando Quintanar, and his # is 415-102-8166. Happy Holidays and best wishes, Bonnie

  5. Bonnie, I understand your story completely. How wonderful to have a table that fits you. It come to you freshly made with care and attention, and it will acquire only memories of love and happiness. Best wishes to you, Bonnie Lee Black, for peace, security, and good health, and many loving TRUE friends in your life, from here on out. You deserve nothing less.

  6. Oh my gosh, Bonnie. What a lovely story. And you’ve found the perfect way to leave your mother’s table (and some of its less than pleasant memories) behind for something of your very own. The table as metaphor for love and creating, for the heart of the home, for feeding friends and sewing or painting—for doing whatever you want in this new home that will feel like your own. Having enjoyed a number of meals at your table in Taos, I look forward to breaking bread (or tortillas) at this beautiful new table.

  7. Bonnie,

    What made you father so angry? Was he abused himself as a child? What kind of work did he do? Not a school teacher I imagine. You may have covered this in “Somewhere Child” but my memory is getting more selective. Anyway, happy times for you and your smoke free table. Wishing you well. Ted

    1. Thanks so much for your good wishes, dear Ted. Yes, I wrote much more about my father and his issues in my first memoir, SOMEWHERE CHILD. Too complicated to explain briefly in this reply to your comment. Wishing you and Claudia Happy, Happy Holidays and all the best in 2023. — BB xx

  8. What a joy to read you have created a table for your future-one that will absorb the essence of who you are, and the occasions and people that share your life. Your story resonated deeply with me. Earlier this year, I had to sell my deceased parents’ home. My brother was OK with giving everything to charity. I, on the other hand, could not look at her dinner set or bedspread, (to name just two items) without being flooded with the memories associated to them. When I was 6, she would take me on the bus, every Saturday morning, to journey into the city, to the large Department Store, where she would add another dollar amount to the laybuy of her Wedgewood dinner plates. I remember asking her why she thought these plates so special. After all, one could eat off a cheaper dinner plate. Surely it was the food and the people that were more important. She told me that “life” was an ordinary meal, until you dressed it up into something magical, and you should always make an effort to create that magic, on a regular basis. She said, one day I’d understand. And now I do. Whether its setting the table with special china, creating an extraordinary meal, or seeing friends you have not seen in a while, life leaves the everyday routine to be replaced with an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement, when you change the setting. Its why we dress up Christmas the way we do.

    I’m very pleased for you and your future move, Bonnie.
    I love your table, especially since its been created to be intrinsically, “you”.
    I wish you many Blessings for Christmas and what looks like being, a magical 2023.

    1. Dear Loula — Thank you SO much for all your kind words and for sharing your Wedgewood story! I especially love this line from it: “Whether its setting the table with special china, creating an extraordinary meal, or seeing friends you have not seen in a while, life leaves the everyday routine to be replaced with an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement, when you change the setting.” Blessings to you, too. — Bonnie

  9. What a lovely story, Bonnie. Your new table is beautiful. May it bring you joy in your new very own casa!

  10. What a lovely tribute to a memory-laden table, Bonnie. I’m so pleased that you are finding your own abode in which to nest and entertain properly! Happy holidays to you.

  11. I cannot wait to sit at your new table in your new home. I imagine that it is just a short walk away although a long walk here in SMA is always welcome. In the meantime, come up for a cup of tea on my roof in the warm winter sun!!

    1. Soon, Suzanne, soon! Only 47 days to go (but who’s counting?)! Yes, it’s only a mile and a half (uphill) from Puente Viejo, so that’s nothing for people like you and me who enjoy walking a lot. 🙂

  12. Lovely. Made me think of the dining room table my father made from a wooden door before us kids were born and a beautiful Swedish modern dining room table my mother lovingly oiled on a regular basis as if giving it a relaxing massage. Your writing as always is deep and heartfelt. What neighborhood will your new apartment be in and what will it be like?

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, dear Lyn. And I love your good memories of family tables. The apt. is in Col. Independencia, and I’ll be sure to write more about it in future WOWs. Stay tuned! — xx

  13. It’s amazing how many of us had fathers like yours. I did, in a fit of madness, get to say “what you” to mine. So glad you get to have your table.

  14. Bonnie: I too have “furniture attachment” issues so I loved the story of your mother’s table. And a new apartment! How exciting — where in town is it?

    1. Hola, querida Carol! So glad to know you could relate to my story. My new apt. will be quite a ways from yours — up at the top of Col. Independencia — with a glorious view. When will you be back in town? — BB xx

  15. Such beautiful sentiments and memories echo in the piece. It’s true, life does not have to be perfect to make beautiful memories. I think we cherish life when we see both sides of our world. Your mother’s love and desire to keep the family happy and together with your father’s erratic and unpredictable behavior – through the table you live it all, and yet learn to value the lack of discord in your home today. I love your blogs Bonnie. Do keep writing.

    1. Thank you, dear Nandita, for writing. I deeply appreciate your thoughtful and encouraging words. I’m so glad we’ve connected through Lois’s Patreon group! Best wishes for happy, happy holidays and a sparkling 2023. — BB

  16. Dear Bon,
    What wonderful news that your living situation will become more settled. I know how challenging it is to let go of family items, especially after maintaining that connection many years. But in my experience, when a family item is replaced with something that you chose because you love it, the new item takes on your new positive energy and also seems to maintain the warm memories of what it replaced.
    I hope the move is not too difficult or too distant.

    1. Thank you, dearest Paul. If all goes well — and as planned — my new apt. will be move-in ready in 45 days! (But who’s counting?) 🙂 I’m trying to learn PATIENCE. — Mucho love, BB xx

  17. A lovely journey of table memories, Bonnie. Not surprising that a dining table brings us home sweet home. So happy to hear about the new apartment waiting for you, and Orlando’s carpentry work will surely be a centerpiece.
    Feliz Navidad Amiga

    1. Thank you so much, dear Theresa! Just think — the next time you and your husband visit SMA, you’ll be able to see my new place and enjoy the glorious view from my terraza. 🙂 Feliz ano nuevo!

  18. I love this story, Bonnie! It saddened me to learn you had to part with your mothers table, a table I knew very well and remember each detail, among so many details from your Riverside Dr. apartment. And I know how special that piece of furniture was to you and the China cabinet that matched it. I don’t recall the bad memories that came with it, only your joy and pride in the “solid maple” part of your history. Your new “one of a kind” table is just stunning, and solid, and uniquely yours to create new memories with. How I long to sit at it with you one day. I’m so glad for you!

    1. Thank you, dearest M.! (I’m delighted to see you’re catching up on unread WOWs this morning!) Yes, the new table will be a joy — as soon as it’s installed in my still-under-construction new apt. And, yes, I’ll be more than overjoyed to have you at that table as my guest of honor — when all the stars align. — Mucho love siempre, BB xx

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