the inevitable fall from grace

Welp, people, it finally happened. Not two days after I began writing Tuesday’s post, one member of the perfect brigade fell from his pedestal – in my parents’ eyes, at least. And all it took was a table.

Not any table, mind you – at least not according to my mother. This was a special table. Bar-stool height, solid wood. The top was a rainbow of different wooden slats, nine, maybe ten hues long, no one knows for sure now. Four thick legs anchored it to the ground. It was sturdy enough to hold our microwave, toaster oven and a rarely-used marble pastry board. The thing had heft to it. And it was handcrafted by this proud little lady right here:

Yes, my 5′ 1″, 20-something feminist of a mother constructed the table, seatbelt belt and all. (Relatedly: Really, Mom?) She took adult-education woodworking classes at the local high school. She bought something called a table saw. She scoured retail outlets she now describes as “special wood places” (“Are you sure you don’t mean Home Depot?” “I’m sure”) for the perfect cuts of wood.

The table was born in Massachusetts and then moved to Connecticut with the rest of the family for my father’s first job. It sat in my parents’ kitchen before they had money to build an island of their own and was eventually relegated to the garage after the Kitchen Remodeling Fiasco Of 1988 (another story for another day.) Despite its new location out of the limelight, the table was still loved -always loved, my mom assures us – though never used, until David and I scooped it up out of hibernation in the summer of 2009.

We were moving into our Philadelphia apartment, which had a sizable and lovely kitchen but suffered from a severe lack of counter space. So, after failing to find suitable Ikea carts on Craig’s List, we came to Connecticut, literally in the dark of night, and pilfered a treasure trove of furniture from my parents’ house. Futon from the guest room, end tables from the fancy living room, and butcher-block table from the garage: into Dave’s parents van they went.

The table was perfect in our Philadelphia kitchen, fitting just so under the pot rack. It came together easily with the wooden pegs my mother had designed to fasten the legs to the top. It held our appliances, was dirtied with the occasional drop of olive oil, crumbs of toast. It served us well, and I was intent on finding a place for it in our new Manhattan home.

So we packed up our stuff and I bid adieu to all our furniture, butcher block table included, planning to see it on the other side of the move, which was being conducted by David and his brother. They were in charge of deconstructing the furniture and getting it down the stairs, while I typed away, earning my keep in far-off Southern New Jersey.

I was doing as much, on move-out Tuesday, when my phone rang. It was David. He sounded rushed, jumpy, nearly out of breath – the way one might sound after throwing a dead body in one’s car trunk.

“We have to get rid of the table,” he said.

I was incredulous. I couldn’t understand it. Why couldn’t we bring the table? The special table? That my mother made?

“It’s in bad, bad shape,” he said.

How could this have happened? And so suddenly! It had been doing just fine before. (My dad says people often exhibit the same reaction upon bringing their 95-year old grandma into the hospital.)

Dave, ever the doctor, insinuated the same thing – just trust me, it’s really bad, it’s old, your mom made it. And move-ins are so crazy and I knew I was getting off nearly scotch free, eating my taquitos by the pool while they were wrestling furniture down the stairs. So I mumbled a few last words about my mother the carpenter and begrudgingly hung up, never to see the table again.

We broke the news to my parents a few nights into our stay in Connecticut. I was the one who brought it up, explaining that the table had somehow deteriorated and couldn’t be saved. Perhaps we could toast to the table? A life well lived!

But my mother was not satisfied. She wanted answers, stat. She pressed and she pressed – it was very Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men” – and eventually, Dave caved. And it turned out that we – and most importantly, his image – really couldn’t handle the truth.

The table had not just spontaneously combusted, nor had it been worn down from two years of use. (It was a good table, remember?) Someone had hurt it. With a mallet.

Yes, David essentially took a sledge hammer to the table. He said he was trying to separate the pieces. He said he had forgotten there were pegs involved. He didn’t say he was an idiot, but some things just don’t need to be spelled out.

My mother remains heartbroken. She keeps bringing it up – teasing Dave, mostly. But I think we all know the truth. The aura of perfection is busted. The kid’s record is tarnished. And that cradle that my mom built when she was pregnant with me, that I was hoping to use for my own children?

If I ever want to lay a finger on it, looks like I’ll have to find a new husband first.


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