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It starts with a table.
It’s an old, oak table, the strongest table I’ve ever known. Even though it stands only on one center post, the table has never, ever wobbled. Four huge claw feet extend from the center trunk, each holding onto carved wooden balls with a visceral tenacity. This table is still my grandmother’s, even if it is in my house.
When I was a little girl, I spent hours under that table, crawling around the feet of what I imagined were a pair of mated eagles, their big oaken wings a perfect circle over my head.
The table was huge in those days, and everyone I knew and loved in the world could sit around it. Their voices were distant as clouds and as immutable. There were stories, murmurs and many, many peals of laughter. The table was in the middle of the biggest kitchen in the world, which was the center of my known universe. I’d guess 95 percent of our waking hours were spent in the kitchen, with light streaming in from every window, even on rainy days.
That was the magic of that kitchen at my grandmother’s house.
The table held the best food in the world, all of it made from scratch, and the smell alone drew everyone in from outdoors no matter what they were doing. At each place setting was a cold Coca-Cola, the kind made with real sugar. Ice sparkled in tall glasses, and condensation glistened on their sides like jewels. I dined below with ease, reaching up periodically for a few bits of flour tortillas and rice to hold me over until dinner.
The space under the table transformed so often, it surprised me that I was the only one who noticed. Some days it was a coral reef, with mermaids and neon-colored fish swimming through. I’d swim through too, sometimes quickly as I evaded sharks, sometimes just floating with graceful and gentle jellyfish.
Other times it was the front gate to the castle and was guarded by a beautiful white horse with a mane that nearly touched the ground. I’d hold court with salt-and-pepper shakers and potholders until someone needed to get some cooking done.
Sometimes, usually late in the day, it became a cave. In my mind, bystanders were often taken by surprise by the bats that suddenly flew out from the cave, screeching and whirling around the kitchen right as the sun started to set outside and bedtime was announced.
I don’t remember the day that I stopped spending most of my time below the table and began to sit in the chairs around it. But I do remember even then feeling those strong eagles’ feet with my toes, my mind drifting back to oceans, castles and caves.
Then, in a blink of an eye, the kitchen was gone, the table had to be moved and, with great anticipation and the help of many strong backs, it had come inside my house.
But something strange happened in transit. The oak table was much smaller. I looked at it in the corner of the room, not sure it was even the same table. I wondered if oak could shrink after 35 years. I theorized that when tables travel from cotton farms in El Paso to the Hill Country, there was a miniaturizing effect.
The first day it was in our house, I ran my hand over the golden wood, puzzled. Everyone I knew and loved in the world couldn’t begin to sit around it. It hardly seemed big enough to serve a meal on. It stood in the corner of the room, dwarfed by everything around it.
Then, after a few weeks I spotted something from the corner of my eye. It was my daughter, crawling around the base, arranging stuffed animals and a few books around the eagles’ claws. The next day there was a sign up next to the table, indicating when it was “open.”
Right then, the table grew.
Today, all I have to do is peek around it, and I can see silvery mermaids jumping under the eagles’ feet, a proud white horse galloping up the curved wood, and the bats hanging from underneath, blinking their eyes, waiting for dusk to fall.
There are new additions, too—gallivanting snow leopards hunting in the mountains of Nepal, fashion divas working the runway in Paris, and a few artfully placed drawings in the Louvre.
It starts with a table. And from there it goes on—forever.
Winter Prosapio, an award-winning humor and travel writer, lives in Canyon Lake.