When I was five years old, I came home from school and found my mother seated outside the house with a bulky piece of furniture in front of her.
I thought she had broken down and gotten me a piano. At that time, I was starting my piano lessons and I figured it would be nice to have my own instrument where I could practice at home. At my tender age, the following considerations escaped me: Whether we could afford one, whether we had space for it in the house we were renting, and whether I had the talent and the inclination to commit to music for the rest of my life.
The answer to all three issues was no. And, as it turned out, it was not a piano.
It was, instead, a study table made of sturdy wood—narra, I was told, which did not make much of a difference for me at that time. My mother was apparently pleased that my kindergarten teacher had asked to see her and tell her personally that I was at the top of my class. “Surprise!” she said when she saw me, and perhaps wondered why I was not as thrilled as she had expected me to be.
We called a couple of male neighbors to bring the study table to the room I shared with Mom and my grandmother. So heavy, they complained. The room felt smaller than ever, and I did not know how I was going to fill the shelves and the drawers.
Over the next few years, however, the shelves and the drawers were practically overflowing. I found good use for the table and spent most of my hours at home there. I did my assignments, reviewed for tests and wrote feverishly on my journal, but I also had a grand time making sure it looked nice. There were a few classics for kids, a sprinkling of Judy Blumes, but what dominated were the editions of Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High. No judgment please, haha.
On the writing area were stuffed animals and photos of my friends. Upon waking up at dawn I headed straight to that table and studied chemistry, or tapped on the portable typewriter. Beside the table was a very narrow window which looked into the window of the equally cramped apartment unit in front of ours. I used to imagine there was a beach there, or just some open space where I could occasionally glance and introspect.
I made it through high school and on to the first semester of university, still as much of a star student as when Mom had first bought the table.
When I became a mom at a very young age, and continued with school as I juggled those disparate responsibilities, the study table was also an invaluable companion. I had it delivered to where I had transferred. Usually I was only able to study late at night or at dawn—when the babies were not crying for milk or otherwise needed attention. What was on the table had changed, too. There were still books, and school supplies, but a half-full bottle of milk or a baby rattle or a pacifier, or heavens a diaper, was not an unusual sight, either.
By grace, I finished university, still using that narra table.
My eldest daughter started pre-school at around the time I started working. I turned over the table to her, hoping she would also use it from beginning to end. I was aghast that she did not keep it neat as well as I did, or use it as often as I did—she studied on the bed, on the couch, or wherever she pleased—but had no time to delve on it. The family was growing so did the things I had to keep at bay. It remained with her when we struck out on our own, just before she graduated high school, and all through college. We brought it to the two other places we later on moved into.
This week, my daughter, now 21 and working at a non-government organization, moved the table out of her room. She seemed to have no use for it anymore, except as a storage area for her books. We agreed that I would take it back, not for me, per se—I had my own long table and executive chair already in my own home office in my room—but as a fixture in the common area on the second floor of our home. This is the place with the wide windows and a great view of the city, and which we had christened “Art Area”—all the books and musical instruments (my two sons did commit to music) and photos and other food for the mind and soul—could be found. My goal is to add another shelf and index all the books under several categories, arranging them in alphabetical order, and improve the lighting.
So now I am faced with this table again, no longer my own. It’s old and bulky and the paint is peeling. It does not match the Zen look I am trying to achieve for the house. Getting rid of it, however, is never an option. Perhaps I will make it a sanctuary for the books I had long treasured. Perhaps I will fill it with framed family photos. Or perhaps I would leave it blank and open, ready for anybody to just pull up a chair and do anything.
It’s like punctuating a column while occasionally gawking at the cityscape to your right, and marveling at how far you’ve come from the chubby five-year-old kid in pigtails and how constant this wooden companion has been.