The Enamel-top Table
This kitchen table has stood witness to the Perelli-Abruzzini family for about a hundred years. Perhaps it has a familiar story...
The geometric design on its black-on-white metal top is only slightly faded. For ninety years, the glossy white paint on its woodshop-carved legs came from generations of family members giving it fresh coats of paint, but twenty-one years ago those legs were stripped, sanded and stained. Change is inevitable.
Extensions slide out from both ends to welcome guests - neighbors, cousins, or whoever might be dropping by for a cup of coffee. A single drawer, tucked into its belly, hold a few kitchen tools that you might forget about.
Six wooden ice-cream-parlor chairs kept it company for nine decades, their latest cushioned seats sporting light green vinyl. Each chair had at least as many layers of paint as the table's legs, high-gloss of course. Easy to clean. I wonder where those chairs ended up. As for the table, it’s still a cherished heirloom.
It’s a wonder there are no stains from Teresa’s eighty-four years of Sunday sauce and meatballs, or from the coffee that followed three meals a day - percolated, hot or iced, or Medaglia Doro espresso, Uncle Mario's favorite! The marks may be invisible but they remain, just beyond the good memories.
Teresa lived in that home from her childhood through her adult life. Its double attics, walk-in closets and extra kitchens held tens of thousands of life’s odds and ends. She clung to them as proof of her family’s love and existence, and today a few pieces still linger in storage boxes, kitchen drawers and china cabinets.
The table is among the most cherished of the family’s belongings. It survived Teresa’s parents as well as Teresa and her husband Frank. It absorbed the tales of births and deaths, and over the years it witnessed the blowing out of hundreds of birthday candles. Parents and children leaned in, argued across it, listened to each other, and understood what they could. Engagements, new jobs, and moves to new cities were announced around it.
Generations of Italian-Americans from the old neighborhood had most every detail of their lives shared, celebrated and mourned, often in hushed tones. Following family wakes, the table stood strong, laden with an vast assortment of baked ziti and cakes. It never missed an important family event, nor an ordinary every-day.
Grandma Concetta and her nephew Mario were its most captivating storytellers. She had come to America at sixteen and defied her older brother to marry Frank. They lost two of their children during the 1918 pandemic. A few months later they welcomed their daughter Teresa, and much later came their two beloved grandsons.
Nephew Mario told both adventurous and heartbreaking stories from his WWII days in Italy and France. His plumbing tales brought plenty of laughter. Mario’s coffee was never strong enough, and Grandma’s never sweet enough.
Friends, relatives, priests and passersby were welcome to share a cup or a meal. Their own stories were absorbed into the nicked legs and pearly tin-top, and into each person who listened and shared.
In the late 1970’s, the table was where Tony’s and Vince’s new brides were welcomed into the
family, just as Teresa’s Frank had been welcomed years before. Linda and I listened to the well-rehearsed yarns and sorrows. We reciprocated with our own tales of different places and people. All of us ate, drank and talked at the table, and before long, yet another generation joined in.
One summer day, as Uncle Mario and Aunt Lucy were walking the two blocks to Teresa’s house, Mario collapsed on the sidewalk and died. Shock and grief consumed the family. Nine days later we reeled yet again, this time from the passing of Grandma Concetta. We came together around the table.
Teresa remained in the house for another fifteen years. Sometimes she seemed overwhelmed by her memories. As her sons were making their lives out-of-state, some of her life-long friends were moving on, or passing on. She insisted on staying in her own home, with her own kitchen and a fraction of the life she’d once known and loved. Eventually she moved into a retirement community.
Around that time, Vince and I were renovating our kitchen in New Jersey. One day I asked him, “Should we get a new table?”
“No,” he replied. “I’d like to bring the kitchen table from my mother’s house.” And so we did. Of everything in that house, the table was what he most wanted.
Often, when I would glance at the table, I thought of the women and boys who pushed and kneaded pasta into the bone, sinew and muscle of what they became.
We made our own pasta, sauce and meatballs. We also made plate-sized pancakes and decorated Christmas cookies.
And as we did in the old days in Binghamton, we welcomed family and friends.
One particular September morning in 2001, Vince didn't take the train into New York because of a meeting with an insurance adjuster. He would’ve escaped the Trade Center that sunny Tuesday, but instead of running down twenty-three floors he was safe in our garage, refinishing the family table. We’re grateful for his memory of sanding high-gloss white paint. The cancelled meeting was never rescheduled.
The table’s newly stained brown legs were lovely. As sometimes happens in life, the table had taken on a new look.
When Vince and I later retired to Pennsylvania, there was no perfect place for the old table. We tucked it away for a few years, but we recently brought it to Diane and Colin in Vermont. They had a perfect spot for it! That fall, we sat at the table for a wonderful Thanksgiving with the two of them, Colin's parents, and a few close friends.
We are all thrilled that Diane and Colin will be married in 2023! There are other changes coming as well. Vince and I are moving to Vermont this winter, and we're hoping Frank will join us as well.
It seems like a new chapter is beginning for this branch of the Abruzzini family and its tin-top table. I'm guessing there's a table in your family that has seen a few changes as well.
Happy birthday Diane! May your light continue to shine brightly, and as you step into your future with Colin, may you always be surrounded by loved ones!