Simple legacy of timeless quality
October 01, 2008
It's rare, but highly coveted when someone new sits at my kitchen table. It's like a cross between going to church and sitting at the local watering hole—sacred and authentic. A celebration of the past and the present. Another shadow upon its surface, the shifting energy of its gathering history.
The porcelain-topped, scroll-legged black and white farmhouse style table was a present my grandfather gave to my grandmother in 1935.
I especially like seeing it in my kitchen because I'm named after that grandma, my dad's mom, Caterina. My folks chose to "Americanize" the lyrical Italian name, but sometimes Tommy Boy (Wearing) calls me Caterina—and my brother-in-law Giancarlo always calls me Caterina.
Caterina Minolli died when I was six years old. I wish I had more time with her—our champion and protector. She didn't speak English, but we managed to communicate nonetheless.
I never met the man who bought the table for her, my grandfather Carlo Minolli, but I think about him a lot. I wonder if we look alike or share similar mannerisms or tastes for things other than the certainty of homemade pasta and wine. I wonder about what I could have learned from him—if he'd be proud of me, what he'd think of the world today. I realize it's possible to miss someone you never knew but whose actions shaped my entire life. Had he not left Italy for North America (the first time by himself at the age of 16), we'd still be there. Eventually he sent for Caterina, and my dad and my aunt, and made a new life here. I'm very grateful for that.
The kitchen table Carlo bought sat in my folk's basement for years—acting as a catch-all until I, possessed by spirits stronger than the fear of rejection, boldly asked them if I could have it.
The folks had grown quite used to its presence, similar to the way spouses often take each other for granted. Until I had asked for it, they had become oblivious to its intrinsic worth because they were raised around that table and others just like it. It was outmoded, small and old fashioned and they had another, bigger and beautifully functional table that we were raised around.
The folks were happy that I wanted it, so they cleared it off and brought it over. It was an immediate and perfect fit.
The old table seats four when it's not extended, and six very comfortably when the one side is pulled out. There have been times—though not recently—when I've crammed way more place settings that that around it, and other times when it's not been big enough for just two.
The porcelain design is worn thin down the length of one side of the table. That's the side Caterina stood in front of as she kneaded, rolled out and cut by hand years and years worth of pasta dough.
Sharing a meal with someone at that table is like extending my family. It becomes a bridge over which food, conversation or silent reflection passes from one to the other, generally with ease.
I like to imagine all of the meals it has hosted, all of the laughter it has witnessed and the tears that have splashed and pooled on its worn surface.
Sometimes I wish I could close my eyes and call everyone who has ever sat at that table to dinner—it has supported so many elbows and hands, plates and wine glasses and candles and books. I'd fill 73 years worth of unmatching glasses of all shapes and sizes from jugs of homemade wine and lead a toast to everyone who ever sat around it, invited and welcomed by me with my grandma and grandpa smiling approvingly on the gathering from the head seats.
It seems that whenever anyone I care about comes over we end up at that table, which is still as sturdy and useful as the day it was made. Like in many households it is the central meeting place, made more comfortable by its imperfections and more endearing by its age. A true legacy of which to aspire.
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