Tete-a-tete Archives

An eclectic sampling of my award-winning humor columns. New columns can be read online at www.nashuatelegraph.com on the first Thursday of the month, with columns posted here later in the month.

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Tete-a-tete: Functional furniture is making my family dysfunctional

It’s a phrase many of us have heard at some point in our lives, usually after we’ve accidentally broken something or caused a mess: “See, this is why we can’t have nice things.”

The reasons for not putting out the good china or buying a quality piece of furniture vary from household to household. It could be because of young children or an energetic pet, or because the right time to use such special items has yet to arrive.

My parents opted to disregard the child and pet factors as well as the lack of an obvious special occasion, choosing instead to get and use the nice things and expecting the family would adapt to living with them.

This has led to some interesting results.

When the time came to replace that most central of family fixtures – the kitchen table – Mom and Dad decided to invest in one that will easily outlast us all. There’s no particle board or plywood in this baby – it’s solid, quarter-sawn oak.

Accidentally kicking an oak table is like slamming your foot against a tree. At last count, Mom has broken two toes; Oldest Younger Brother, three; Youngest Brother, four; Younger Sister, one; and Dad, all ten. Even the cat has bonked her head a couple of times.

I’m not sure how I’ve managed to remain unscathed all these years. I’d knock on wood, but that would mean knocking on the kitchen table and I’d probably break my knuckles.

Though the table is sturdy enough to bend flesh and snap bone, it cannot withstand heat, cold or moisture – this nefarious trio of elements will damage the finish on the wood. Since one of the main purposes of a kitchen table is to have hot, cold and damp dishes set upon it, we employ an archipelago of coasters, placemats and trivets to protect it.

One evening, Mom, Youngest Brother, Younger Sister and I sat down at the table for a family game of cards. To the astonishment of my siblings and me, Mom divested the table of its piecemeal armor and spread the cards out directly on the wood.

“But – why?” I stammered, scarcely believing what I was seeing.

She explained that one of the reasons they bought a real wood table was so we could use it for family games like this.

“It’s not like a bunch of playing cards are going to scratch the wood,” she concluded.

No, but the coins for the pot might. Youngest Brother and Younger Sister gleefully scooted pennies and dimes across the unobstructed table until Mom admitted defeat.

The most recent addition to our collection of functional furniture that must be handled with care is a couch for the family room, purchased about two years ago. To prevent the upholstery from acquiring unsightly stains, Mom asked the family to refrain from eating on the couch.

This is not an unreasonable request, but there are only two other chairs in the family room. When we gather there to enjoy a movie while eating dinner, two people get to sit in the chairs and the rest of us sit in a row on the floor in front of the couch until we’ve finished eating.

As a result, the carpet has suffered a little more than it otherwise would have, but we’ve managed to preserve the upholstery.

Because we’re accustomed to making concessions for the furniture, our behavior didn’t strike us as unusual until the day Mom opened one of the kitchen cupboards to get a mug and found a note inside, written in Oldest Younger Brother’s handwriting.

It read:

“Please do not put hot or cold liquids into this mug, as they may damage it. You may not put this mug in the dishwasher, nor can it be washed by hand. Enjoy!”

As I have mentioned previously, Oldest Younger Brother no longer resides at the family homestead. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to stick his tongue in his cheek at us from a safe distance.

Though our behavior may seem a trifle odd to those who have prudently stocked their homes with unbreakable dishes and expendable furniture, my siblings and I have learned the value of keeping nice things nice. I appreciate the lack of candy wrappers in the couch when I’m watching TV, and Youngest Brother and Younger Sister may be the only teenagers in the Granite State who automatically offer coasters to their friends.

And should the cost of keeping the nice things nice become too high and require us to invest in some expensive prosthetic toes, we can always sell our pristine kitchen table.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published Oct. 3, 2013.

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