Thoughts: The Dessert Table

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This is the desert table.

For as long as most of us can remember, it sat in a corner of my parent’s dining room. No matter when you visited, there were multiple desserts sitting on it. This was not just a holiday thing. You expect lots of sweets and special things at Thanksgiving or Easter. No, it was covered with candy, cakes, pies, cookies any time you came to visit.

After a meal, there was always a visit to the desert table. And the beauty of it was that you were not expected to pick one. No, in our house it was perfectly acceptable to use a dinner plate for dessert and load it up with enough good things to assure a sugar coma afterwards. (but the always running coffeepot made sure that didn’t happen.).

And you weren’t done after your dinner feast. Not at all. About 10:30 in the evening, just as the evening news was about to begin on TV, Mom would announce she was going to have a little something, and there was always a second sojourn to the dessert table.

It began life as a boat table. Made of mahogany, and simple in design, the legs fold flat, so the table could be stored while sailing, and brought out on deck when you were safely near shore and needed a table. There are no metal parts to rust. It was all done with wood and pegs.  My dad bought it when he was in his sailboat phase, and lived and breathed all things sailing. But this never lived on our boat. It lived in the dining room.

For my kids, the dessert table was one of the symbols of Mom and Dad’s house. It spoke to generosity, plenty, breaking the rules a little, and simple joy of good things. Not a fine antique (and my parents had many fine antiques), it was one of the most treasured memories of my parents’ home. Something they always looked forward to. Something they often talked about when they were away.

My mom died a couple of months ago. Suddenly. Without her to take care of him, we had to move my father to a nursing home. Now we are preparing their house to sell, which means cleaning it out and decluttering it. I’ve made two trips to Va to bring things back and this Saturday, I brought up the dessert table. Maybe there was something in the air, because even though she did not know it was coming, my daughter went on a baking spree, making a batch of shortbread cookies, and then for father’s day, a cinnamon bun pecan pie. So when I showed up with the dessert table, we had desserts ready to for it.

Now it is sitting in my dining room. Piled high with sweet calories.

There’s an odd displacement, seeing these things that have always been in my parent’s home here in my home, eleven hours away from where they have lived all these years. In a way, they are a painful reminder of the losses of the past few months. But at the same time, they are a reminder of the joys of family, the times together, the restoration that my dad did so often and so well, the great feasts and intimate moments with my mother, the journey we made together – not always easy or pleasant, but made together. At times I look at these things and cry. The tears a mixture of sadness, and gratefulness.

I remember when my own grandfather died. My dad was having trouble crying. He’s not one to show his heart in general, so that was not a surprise. He chided me for my own tears, and I remember telling him “If you can’t cry for the ones you love, you’re dead.”.

I can tell you, I am not dead.

Eating a thick slice of cinnamon bun pecan pie last night, at about 11, just before the news, my daughter and I remembered the joy of holidays. No, they were not perfect. In recent years in fact, with my dad’s combination of dementia and drinking, sometimes they were damned rough. But there was always the dessert table, a place that brought us all together. And now it’s here. I feel like I am carrying a torch somehow.

Now, if I can only figure out how Mom had the dessert table and managed to stay slim and trim. I’m not sure I am up to that one.



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