In 1985, I moved to Colorado Springs to join my then boyfriend now husband, Ron. We lived in the 700-square-foot top floor of a little stone building that had been a fire outlook in the mountains. We had one bedroom, a freezing cold bathroom and a little efficiency kitchen in the main room. No dining room…no dining table. We ate at the coffee table—an enormously heavy piece of wood and metal that, according to Hiner family lore, had started its life as a hatch cover on the old trading ship the Star of India (more on that later).
Tonight, 37 years later, we ate at that same coffee table. It is our first night of returning to apartment dwelling. We recently sold our family home of 28 years and are starting our life again as a couple. We will be living primarily in Colorado but also keeping an apartment in the Northeast so that I can visit my mom and siblings regularly. We are no longer empty-nester parents surrounded by memories of our family life and the “ghosts” of our children’s stuff. Over the past four months, we got rid of excess furniture and accumulated junk…and sent the kids’ dolls, books and memorabilia to their respective homes in other parts of the country. Ron and I are returning to what is simply “our space.”
I don’t remember what our first meal at the coffee table was—probably boxed macaroni and cheese, given our age and my culinary skills in my mid 20s. Tonight, as we sat down to a fresh salad and perfectly grilled steak (Ron is a really good grill chef), I experienced a moment of time folding over onto itself. It wasn’t déja vu exactly but rather a rapid slideshow in my mind of the many family events and special moments that centered around this coffee table.
In 1981, AR Gurney wrote a fabulous play called The Dining Room that rotated through 18 vignettes of different families in different eras in their dining rooms. Similarly, our coffee table has traveled through time with us and has its own stories to tell…
The table comes home. As the story goes—after returning from a business trip, Ron’s father announced that he’d brought home a fabulous coffee table with him—a piece of history made from a deck hatch cover from one of the first iron-hulled sailing ships, the Star of India. “Not in my house” was Ron’s mother’s response, and so the coffee table was relegated to the back patio where it endured the summer heat and Colorado winters.
Ron takes ownership. By the time I visited Ron for the first time in Colorado Springs, he had already raided his family’s basement in search of furniture and furnishings (didn’t we all do that in our younger years?). There was the coffee table alongside an old sleeper sofa, Ron’s college water bed (!!!) and the dressers and shelves that had decorated his childhood bedroom. The sofa and the water bed have been gone for decades, and we actually gave away the last of the dressers just last year. But the coffee table has endured.
Hate turns to love. Just because we owned the coffee table didn’t mean that we always liked it. It was functional…and, more important, free. When we bought our first home, we actually hated it—it was heavy and industrial-looking. Our friends had a wagon-wheel chandelier that they also hated, and we joked that we would sell their chandelier with our coffee table. But tastes change, and what was a style disaster in 1988 is now right on trend with its industrial mix of wood and metal. I will add, however, that classics are always classic—and to be honest, I think the table was always great but I didn’t appreciate its classic beauty when I was younger. Just as a blue blazer and white blouse or a black turtleneck are always in style, so, too, are classic design pieces.
Our kids danced on it. If the table top was strong enough to be the deck of a boat, it certainly was strong enough for our family, and so it quickly became the “everything table” for the kids. It was indestructible. They could climb on it, dance on it, play on it and do art projects on it. We played a bazillion rounds of Hi-Ho Cherry-O…Guess Who?…and Sorry! at the table. We colored and glittered and did all sorts of art projects…had birthday parties around it…and spent many (many) movie nights with our feet and stove-cooked popcorn on it.
When my younger daughter returned home during COVID, we returned to the table, coloring with crayons…playing Backgammon and Yahtzee…and doing the obligatory jigsaw puzzles—all in an effort to fill time and remain calm during the unprecedented era.
And now here it is again, center stage as we return to just us.
I thought it would be weird to be out of our big house, away from all of the memories. My husband has been troubled by the process of “destroying” what we spent decades creating. For me, nothing has been destroyed. We are taking what is most meaningful to us to the apartment and to our home in Colorado…and have found new homes for many special items that didn’t make the cut. With every use, the coffee table reminds us of our past chapters—those memories will carry forward with us as we add to our story in an exciting new place.