Pieces that Speak
There are real stories in stuff
By Joyce Reehling
I walk around our house and hear stories quietly recounting themselves. Everything we own can tell a tale, and we should remember and share it around the dinner table. The real story.
Sometimes we dress up the story about how our “beloved” aunt left us this bowl when, in fact, she was a grouchy old thing that no one liked being around and the best part was the bowl. Tell that story.
Or the rickety, reassembled chair that once collapsed into laughter and pieces under the weight of a friend nicknamed Porky. Tell that story.
Or my little pine, drop leaf table. It sits in our den where it looks as if it doesn’t belong because it is so plain, casual and seldom used. It was the first piece of real furniture that I bought in New York for my very small apartment. I also bought two chairs which are long gone (not, however, casualties of Porky), but I can’t part with this table. I remember seeing it in a small shop on the Upper West Side one Saturday morning. I wasn’t in a show at the time so I had a Saturday to myself. I bought this table and managed to wrestle it home on my own once they had taped it up so it wouldn’t flop open every other step. Most of my life in New York I lived on the fourth floor of a walk-up but luckily, then, I Iived in an elevator building. Instant dining area! A real table and chairs.
I imagined dinners with a friend or, perhaps, a man who would be madly in love with me eating my snappy dinners. But that almost never happened because I worked in the theater and no one else wants to eat at 4:30 in the afternoon to be settled by show time. But I love that table. I look at it and feel younger. I am still, under the drop leafs, that 20-something girl walking excitedly down the street building a real life with a table.
I hang on with great joy to a funny little pitcher and sugar bowl that my maternal grandfather bought when he was quite young and forced to go to work to support his mom and sisters after his father died. He bought this silver-plated set to give to his mother — a true young Southern gentleman living in Richmond, making a gesture meant to uplift a sad and grieving soul. Their de minimis value means nothing. It is the thought of this boy, my grandfather, doing without to give this gift. His love resides with me each and every day. When I polish these pieces my heart glows from his generosity. O’Henry could not have done better.
We buy houses around a dining table. Ours is from Darling Husband’s side of the family. His maternal grandfather, Ferruccio Vitale, an Italian immigrant and a renowned landscape architect until the crash of ‘29, brought with him some amazing furniture. The table is the one D.H. ate family dinners around as a boy. And his mother sat at it when she was a child, too.
It is almost one plank of wood, some trim and some inlay; the legs are two large pedestals with deep acanthus leaf carvings. It takes a basketball team to move it. We believe it to be Florentine, unquestionably unique. Its eight regal chairs match it the way the planets match the sun. Dinners, debates, tears and laughs have spilled over this wood. Great food, great wine and culinary failures have flowed across it. It tells all those stories. Ferruccio must know how we love it so. It defines our house.
I have, among our many paintings, one by our friend Chipp Well, of the moon setting over a pond. It not only keeps Chipp alive in our hearts but on any day when the world is too hard to bear, the news too sad to take, that moon shining on the pond can bring my blood pressure right down. Even a melancholy moon promises another day.
The cups from the Orient Express are crying out for some tea so that I might see the Alps and feel the crisp air. Ask and I will tell the story. PS
Joyce Reehling is a frequent contributor and good friend of PineStraw.