Mom served her meals on the surface of our heavy, baked enamel tabletop; a legacy from the previous tenant in our tenement apartment. A pattern of linked royal blue, one-inch diamonds ran along the outer edge of the top and also formed a large diamond at the center. Dad color-coordinated it by painting its legs and apron along with his fingers and naked scalp to match the blue diamonds. We had to sit a foot and a half from the table because a yard of wooden apron descended from the tabletop, preventing our legs from fitting under the table. After a meal, our pants resembled a Jackson Pollock abstract. Fortunately, we wore cotton, washable pants which Mom washed in the bathtub. Not a garment in our house ever went to the dry cleaner.
Mom didn’t have a problem in getting her knees under the table. She never sat there. Like a waitress in a diner, she served the meal then waited. Perhaps there might be a request for ketchup, mustard or her homemade horseradish. The remainders from our meal supplemented by the small portion of the entrée she left for herself was her dinner. A glass of tea, brewed from yesterday’s tea bag, along with a sugar cube lodged between her cheek and molar, was her dessert.
The large blue diamond at the center of the tabletop was the bulls-eye for Mom’s flatware blitz. She strafed the table with a heap of cutlery before each meal. We selected our forks, knives and spoons from somewhere within the scattered mass.
One day a replacement table became a possibility. Mrs. Suslow from apartment 3 burst into our apartment with the news. “Macy’s has a sale on kitchen tables!”
But if we bought a new table how would we get rid of our Blue Diamond Beast? We could hardly budge it. The layers of paint caked on its legs and apron throughout the years, supplemented by my Dad weighed more than our oven. Schlepping it down four flights of stairs would require the service of two world-class weight lifters. Nonetheless, when the new table arrived, my father my uncle (our permanent border), my brother and I somehow managed to slide the monster down four flights of stairs leaving a trail of blue paint chips.
Without knowing its pedigree, someone adopted it before the Department of Sanitation came the following day.
I knew that Mom’s concept of setting a table didn’t conform to Amy Vanderbilt’s, but why disrupt a flow that streamed so nicely over the years?
Many months later, Sheila, my fiancé, was invited to dinner. She took me aside to ask why there was a mound of cutlery at the center of the table.
“So we can use them,” I replied. She stood bewildered.
Our new, maple-legged, brown metal table begged for napkins and a proper table setting. Fortunately, Sheila, who earned an A in Home Economics at James Madison High Schoolin Brooklyn answered the call.