Our house? Shoes. It's shoes strewn about pointing every-which-way. That's how I'd describe it. And creaky floors. And streaks on a mirrors and surfaces. And stacks of things. And old things. And good things. And things that were never really ours. Things that either of us inherited. And some things still in boxes that are forever infused with an on-the-cusp smell of plain, unscented yet to be burned candles.
It's the way that one cabinet always smelled. The one where we kept the cloth napkins. Best. Luncheon. Everyday. In that order. All ironed. All folded and awaiting duty. It contained the paper napkins, too. A few stray Raggedy Ann birthday napkins sat forgotten and waiting in vain for over thirty years. And there was the never opened package of cocktail napkins that were older than me. The napkins themselves embossed with the letter J in a font that no longer even exists. One wonders what happened--why were these J napkins never used?
It was a sideboard. It contained table setting items. Napkin rings. Tasteful trivets--trivets so restrained in their design that it left one frozen, speechless then weeping for the pure incredibility of it all. It contained boxes of long wooden matchsticks with gold tips used on Christmas to light luminarias, gorgeous teal and gold peacock motif matchbooks just 'because' and special retractable forks for the polite skewing of olives and pickles--as well, jewel colored glass swizzle sticks, mother of pearl petit-four servers, silver sugar cube tongs, and every kind of glassware imaginable.
It was like some unspoken goal that I had always had, that I knew I had always had but that I had never acknowledged that I had always had: I wanted a sideboard. A sideboard of my own. Filled with items just for the purpose of entertaining. Filled with things like tea sets, hand painted autumn leaf centerpieces, varieties of birthday candles (pastel colored, primary colored, numbers, roman numerals, letters in comic sans and helvetica), baby shower cupcake decorations, little tiny vodka glasses, lobster themed salt and pepper shakers, cupid bow and arrow themed paper plates. And, all the way in the back, a set of six mortgage burning themed martini glasses.
Not to mention the notebook. Neatly handwritten personal notes and sketches--with pages torn from magazines of coconut covered cakes elevated on antique milk-glass pedestals, of ladylike floral arrangements in yellows and golds, of white-on-white winter table-scapes, of recipes, of seating arrangements, of china patterns.
Yes. It was all there. Existing somewhere in the back my mind. A sideboard. A cabinet for the singular purpose of table setting. Never opened for any reason other than for a hostess to prepare to host. She--kneeling before her sideboard, considering her choices. Probably while wearing a long, dark pink velvet hostess gown with empire waist and oval neckline. Probably while wearing matching gold pave ring and brooch. Probably with her hair half-up. Probably with a daub of Shalimar behind each ear.
And when you arrive the hostess throws open the door and says, Hellooo! and gives you a lipstick side kiss and hands you a scotch and a little plate because this party is a buffet. There are miniature meatballs in a caramelized grape-jelly sauce, artichoke dip, cheese fondu, sliced beef, pasta in lemon shallot. Lots of delicious things. All in special matching buffet dishes that are kept warm via the flame of utilitarian candles meant for that very purpose (hence such candles having a thick, more rough-hewn appearance than a normal votive might; hence such candles being kept quite apart from the other more decorative candles).
Later, maybe even the next day, with windows wide open and abundant sunshine coming through, after all the dishes have been done, after all the bins have been emptied and all the bottles have been taken to the curb, after all the candle holders have been given a warm soapy soak, and all the floors have been swept and mopped and dried and the guest towels have been replaced and fluffed--later, perhaps while listening to some soft music--all the items used to set the table, used to entertain (now clean, now dry, now lined up neatly on the dining room table) will be put carefully back into the sideboard; carefully back where table setting items belong.
. . .
Our house? A sideboard in our house--even this very sideboard described from my childhood--would hold very neatly a few candles and the five or six tablecloths I've collected over the years and then I'd be looking around wondering what else to put in it. Though at first I'd resist any such suggestion, the unused space would quickly begin to house practical things. Grocery bags, light bulbs, boxes of raisin bran. Then, later, freezer bags, rolls of duct tape, cat chow--even some loose rubber bands. And the sideboard wouldn't be positioned in the dining room where it would make sense, but more awkwardly in a hallway. And there would always be a stack of junk mail on top of it. And, occasionally, a pizza box on top of that.
. . .