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Home Is Where the Hearth Is

I love our kitchen. Sunlight bounces off the white patio wall and dances around our own as yet unpainted walls, filling the kitchen up brightly all day. The marble counter (a little too dark to find the ants when they come—my only complaint) angles out away from the window, leaving a nook for a table and chairs, which is great for us since our dining room area is being used as the office. We don’t have a kitchen table set though; for now we’re eating off a white plastic build-it-yourself patio table with uneven legs. We wheel our office chairs in from the dining room when it’s time to eat. I can’t wait until we have the kitchen all finished and furnished. Jeff’s condo will have a hearth and really feel like a home.

To that end, he and I have been searching for a kitchen table-and-chairs set. He wants new, clean, and shiny. I don’t want to spend $800 for Formica-topped particle board that we have to assemble ourselves. At a consignment store, I found one table that I just loved—glossy golden wood, rough-hewn, heavy. The kind of table that would require five hefty villagers to carry it. The chairs were also farmhouse originals: solid, with a red gingham print for the cushions. It was the perfect size too, but at nearly $2000 for the set, a little out of our price range. Apparently it wasn’t just any consignment shop, and Jeff has a hard time understanding how anything used can be so expensive, antique or not.

I decided to look on Craigslist. I found a kitchen set I loved—my grandmother’s! Rockport maple (I’ve since learned), six chairs and a round four-foot table with two ten-inch extensions, for $125. It looked great in the photo, dark maple wood gleaming in the sunlight, purple cushions beckoning me to sit down. I stared at the photo while my grandmother served up red plastic mugs, the ice sizzling as the soda was poured, and a bowl of pretzels, the thick sourdough twists that crumbled all over when bitten into. The wave of nostalgia was too strong. With my sister and now mother up in arms about my blog writing, my upcoming wedding, my apparent selfishness, my …. who knows what else since they still aren’t speaking to me, I could really use a big hug from my grandmother.

Jeff, bless his heart, though he had tried valiantly to sideswipe the issue early on, did agree to go see the set when I explained why I felt so strongly. It turned out the woman selling it lived near his chiropractor and had a pit-bull puppy (rescued from a drug dealer no less), so it wasn’t a bad trip for him at all. I was disappointed. The table and chairs were in much rougher condition than the photos had led me to believe, and the bright purple cushions that had enticed me were really a very dusty mulberry. The woman asked us to run our fingers across the top of one of the chairs, to feel the grime left by years of cigarette smoke. That was gross enough to me, but that Jeff, who not only worries about germs but also hates cigarette smoking, did not throw up right there on the spot is an absolute miracle.

Did I mention that I love him? Not only did Jeff not vomit or act in any way disgusted while we were there, he didn’t express any displeasure afterward either, and he said that if I wanted the set, he’d ask a colleague at work about getting it transported to our home. Sometimes I can’t believe that I am offered such generosity.

I hemmed and hawed, talked to some friends, and read on the Web about refinishing furniture. I was seriously tempted to try; I’ve never done any work with wood before, and I was excited about the challenge. But I decided ultimately that it would take more time and effort than I have to give right now. Apparently that kind of set is pretty common, so I’ll keep searching resale shops and Craigslist. We’ll find a kitchen table that we both agree on, whether or not it is like my grandmother’s. I can’t really bring her back, can’t really get comfort from old wood furniture, glossy or grimy. I can’t clean things up and make them the way I want them to be; I have to accept life as it comes.

It’s not always easy, and my heart aches for my grandmother’s big suffocating squeezes, her warm smell of cooking and dish soap, her unconditional love and acceptance. I’ll make my own home and hearth, form my own family with Jeff, and nurture myself.