The Kitchen Table
The Kitchen Table
The Howell Company of Saint Charles, Illinois first advertised its furniture collection in 1933. Shortly before the last catalogue offered in 1967 and the Howell Company closed its doors, a single Lavanti Marble kitchen table was shipped from lot #1 in Saint Charles some 300 miles and five and a half hours to Fremont, Ohio. It was the 29th such table made on the line. Perhaps the first 28 and those after are the same; table 29 was unique in that it would belong to Eileen Mae Forgerson as she kept it tirelessly for her family.
The Lavanti model comes with 2 inserts and seats 8 comfortably. By the time it arrived at 920 Tillotson St. seating numbers would be meaningless and its measure of comfort impossible to gauge.
In March of 1965, Grandpa Bill began construction of the house now sitting at 920 Tillotson for his family. In August of 1966 the Forgersons moved into their new home. At the time there was no carpet in the house, no yellow couches, large record player and radio or even the large coffee table that sits there now. In fact, the floor-in what I am sure was a vote of one-was painted green while Grandpa and Grandma saved to have the house decorated and finished. As a housewarming gift, their parents purchased the Lavanti Marble table from Sears and Roebuck. From Saint Charles Illinois across 300 miles, the new table arrived and the new house indeed warmed to the home we know.
For years Grandma tried to get people to come in the side door from the garage. The effort never really stuck as Grandpa’s design was fated to draw the family into the heart of the home where Grandma doted on “her people.” Walking up to the house, the view through the kitchen window of friends and family gathered already at the table pulls us to that front door without even a second thought. Once inside everyone shuffles and herds into the narrow walkway of the dining room, bumping heads on low hanging lights, squeezing between the open door and dining room railing, greeting and hugging and returning to the kitchen and the table with the same ease that called us from outside.
As evening would wear on, the light which we banged into when sitting or standing was turned on by Grandma. She took care of her people till the last had disappeared from her table, even if it meant coming from the bedroom to check if you were alright or needed anything else.
The day began and ended at the table. Some of us earlier and some of us later. For as long as she was able, the first of all of us to rise was Grandma. In the blue morning, standing in her long white and flower print night shirt she began getting out A & P pecan rolls, banana bread, nut bread, and even some of the makings for lunch- “you daresn’t leave your people wanting.” We arrived in our PJ’s, some of us destined to sit the day through the pounds of shredded chicken and hundreds of bags of Ballerich’s potato chips till deep hour of night and morning. The Forgerson girls often sitting till near dawn sharing conversation and stories again and again—and again—and again.
The rest of the family milled about the house returning to grab cookies or make the 100th ham sandwich. As kids we knew the kitchen as the domain of the mature and boring. As adults it was the center of conversation. As adults or kids we all knew that seating came at a premium and with certain responsibilities.
Nearest the dining room–you got extra chairs. Come too late and you had to drag the chair from the kitchen phone desk. Grandpa’s seat was at the head of the table by the wall and in unspoken law was always waiting for him. Grandchildren started in high chairs and as years slipped by we moved into the black metal seats of the table itself. Even as adults some of us waited a four -year waiting list just to have a spot at the table. You knew you had arrived when you could sit in those black metal chairs for a meal instead of at the “kid’s table.” Grandma’s chair, nearest the stove and coffee maker and always slightly behind her family, was mostly empty while she cared for us. No-one ever waited to feel at home, welcome, or loved.
Arrive early like Grandma’s daughters or late like the sleep walking “Uncle Fred” somehow there was always room for one more. Even seated in the draft of the living room there was the reassuring feeling of warmth gathered around that table. We didn’t need to look in though we did without knowing why if only to walk through, grab another cookie and be cared for by Grandma. The easy hours of daylight passed warmly into memory and years.
The kitchen table was the site of parades, countless meetings after cards or Ross football games, the place of Easter egg dye, coloring books, fashion shows, traded sarcasm, KFC dinners, board games, a place to escape the parade on TV in the family room and watch the game. It was the place of gossip, meals, family welcomes and goodbyes.
Now it is quiet at Grandma’s table though still warm with love and family and thick with memory. Perhaps Grandma is sitting for a much deserved rest though doubtful. If heaven is being given what you love the most, then Grandpa is at his seat by the wall irascibly banging his coffee mug on the table-dangerously close to getting an egg on the forehead-Ed is leading the parade and doing his level best to stay out of the damn closet while Hazel hopes he does, Grandma Cathy and Grandpa Louie have dropped by to chat and check on their grandkids, Auntie Dee and Uncle Don are on their way over in their cruise liner of an automobile and all the others we have loved in our lives are there and around it all Grandma is waiting on those who arrive so that it is with the same shuffling, crowded and warm feeling of belonging so lovingly given to all of us at 920 Tillotson –and perhaps a shredded chicken sandwich or two and a cup of coffee. After all, you daresn’t let your people go without.
Now in all our houses we make our homes owing to unseen and tender hands. At the heart is the kitchen table. While it may have not come from Saint Charles, Illinois or is some design other than Lavanti Marble, they are all a place to gather and at the heart of each is Grandma.