Furniture makes me feel grown up. Even that word -- furn-i-ture -- sounds substantial, reliable, and reassuring. I suppose at my age this should be far past relevant, but anybody over 30 knows there's nothing about one's years on earth that guarantees maturity. I'm always on a scavenger hunt for signs and symbols that I've made a dent on life's confusions. Furniture, for whatever idiosyncratic reason, seems to say "yes, you have."
This matters today because Ted and I recently added a large, significant piece of furniture to our household. It's a tall oak china cabinet in two heavy pieces -- what my mother called a buffet and what Ted and I have been calling a "hutch." The latter seems the right moniker -- it's big, yet designed for peaceful, cozy purposes, like housing the remnants of my Great-Grandma Youtz's flowery china and my collection of cordial glasses. And, of course, "hutch" is also the word for a rabbit's house. What a language! How can anybody who speaks English not be a poet?
Anyway, there was once a time when I was proud that all my "stuff" fit into my '67 Bug. Those were days of heady road trips across the U.S.A., as I freely flew down freeways, 10 and 40 and 80, east to west to east to west, enjoying my unencumbered youth. I think what I had was a bunch of hippie clothes and a "stereo" in three pieces: the turntable and two speakers that slid onto the right and left. There would have been a couple of boxes of books (Kurt Vonnegut, Doris Lessing, Leaves of Grass, Emily Dickinson) and a box of "records" -- yes, children, that's what we called them -- Grateful Dead, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Crosby-Stills-Nash-and-Young, Cream, Janis Joplin, Beatles, of course. And a few keepsakes like a small black ivory elephant my dad brought me from the U.N. and a vase given to me by Sadie Russ, a 98-year-old woman in Akron, Ohio who had been friends of my long-dead grandmother.
I still have all that stuff -- well, not the Bug or the stereo, but most of the rest. Eventually the open road, actually and metaphorically, lost its luster as it so often does when one's knees and neck begin to go, and I wanted not a million choices, but anchors to one spot, one house, one man. I wanted to get to know one tree intimately and watch it grow. I wanted to get to know one man and I wanted him to stay awhile. I wanted dishes and cloth napkins and rugs and a real bed with an actual headboard.
I learned that furniture doesn't keep a marriage together, but can outlast it. One of the hardest things I had to walk away from in my first marriage was a dining room table with leaves to seat a dozen. We'd had years of memorable dinner parties there, and it meant something to me. I gave it up. But it is somewhat easier to replace a table than a husband: when I left that marriage, one of the first things I did was buy another one (a table, that is!) -- smaller but solid, suited to what I hoped would be my intrepid solitary life. The emotional reward was mixed but irresistible.
Later, my present husband and I bought a dining room table and big chairs that please me immensely. They haven't been seasoned by the rowdy soirees of my thirties and forties, but they were made by Mennonites in Pigeon, Michigan -- built with deliberate, loving craftsmanship, I like to think, that took some time. When we bought it I told Ted, "Some day I'll need the 'hutch' to go with this." He remembered, and this year, in the sign of the Scorpio -- mine -- he delivered.
It matches the table and chairs and has glass doors and a mirrored back and built-in recessed lights that make my granny's china sparkle. The other night I left the lights on dim, just so that if I woke up in the middle of the night I could come downstairs and look at all my keepsakes shimmering in the dark.
It doesn't change the world or feed a baby, but it makes me feel rooted and substantial. I have a hutch. I must really be a woman now.
Not a hero
4 years ago