People busy at work at a table


Our Dining Table Was Supposed To Host The Holidays — Now It Hosts Everything

Dec 21, 2020

A year ago I was standing in my mother-in-law’s apartment. I was helping with the bittersweet transition of moving her from one phase of life to another. My husband’s stepfather had passed away and the time had come to move his mom to a facility to help manage her worsening dementia. It was a difficult period for everyone. Little did we know that it was just the beginning of a fundamental shift that we would all soon be entering.

As we emptied my mother-in-law’s home we faced the herculean task of clearing out a lifetime of possessions. Items dating all the way back to when my husband was just a kid. Suddenly strangers were carrying away his family’s heirlooms: a childhood dresser, his great aunt’s side table, a grandmother’s tea service. Each item, a painful reminder of an era now gone.

"When it arrived at our home I got a little excited about the many family dinners it would serve."

When it came to her 1960s wrought iron dining room table, my husband suggested we keep it. We needed to replace our table, an impulse purchase made a decade before that never quite worked out — a sexy chrome and glass extendable number that had a tendency to collapse when anyone leaned on it. Its weirdly positioned legs forced guests to awkwardly straddle them when more than four people sat at it. I dreamed of one day owning something roomy and comfortable enough that we could all gather around.

So when he made the suggestion, I let go of my fantasies about picking out something brand new. I liked the idea of hanging onto something with a bit of history. A vintage piece that had been in his family for half a century that wasn’t destined for landfill once its cool factor faded. And it was big enough to seat eight people. When it arrived at our home I got a little excited about the many family dinners it would serve.

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I laugh when I think of these big plans as I sit at the table now. Currently it's covered in a mess of laptops, phone cables, dog-eared homework, bill statements, coffee mugs, clean laundry, music books, fabric, a sewing machine and of course, hand sanitizer. It hasn’t seen so much as a fork let alone a soiree.

"My family collides around it as we each try to get through our respective daily tasks from the confines of our home."

Instead this structure has become my family’s metaphorical war room. Perched at it, we navigate the pandemic world from its glass surface. It has been repurposed into a home office, a virtual classroom, a podcast studio, a music school, a sewing factory and a catch-all for household crap. The only thing it isn’t used for is eating.

My family collides around it as we each try to get through our respective daily tasks from the confines of our home. Sometimes I’m trying to record audio while my daughter sews masks beside me. Other times she’s on Zoom attending class while I tiptoe around making lunch. It’s a delicate dance we execute each day, making us feel more like colleagues than family.

And of course, we have our fair share of co-worker complaints. Like when my husband bursts into song while my daughter is doing homework. Or when she leaves granola wrappers around my workspace. And how she freaks out that I’m going to wander into her Zoom classroom in my bathrobe (I’m saving that for her last day).

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I think of this time as just another notch on this table’s curved metal legs. It has been through births, deaths, marriages, divorces — not to mention family discussions about the moon landing, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam War, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the Gulf War, 9/11 and now COVID-19. It might be a little scratched and worn over the years, but its framework is sound.

There will be future dinner parties at this table. And we’ll appreciate breaking bread with loved ones all the more from having gone through this experience. I look forward to one day clearing away the clutter and setting a place for each and everyone I miss.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a published playwright and writer and the Co-Artistic Director of the award-winning company, Expect Theatre. She is also the Co-Host and Producer of PlayME, a podcast that transforms plays into audio dramas now on CBC. She has worked in theatre, film, and television and lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and pre-teen daughter. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.

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