Columnist John Moore: The Formica Dinette Set

Published on Thursday, 18 May 2017 18:04 - Written by John Moore, john@johnmoore.net

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The first time I saw the red Formica dinette table, I wanted it. It reminded me of the aqua colored one that resided in my childhood home. I tried to buy it from my neighbor. Twice.

But my neighbor wasn’t interested in selling it. Over the period of a few years, he and his wife would have garage sales. They always had nice items they were offering, but that red Formica dinette table and its matching four chairs weren’t something they were willing to part with.

It was in a building behind their home. The chrome legs and trim glistened in the light. The tough seats and chair backs were manufactured when America made just about everything, and made it well. They used the table to display garage sale items. I would pick up the items from the table to get a closer look at the kitschy design pattern.

It was like looking into a time machine.

The pattern, which was identical to the aqua colored table my parents had owned, took me to the 1960s.

I was back in my chair at breakfast, reading the back of a cereal box as I devoured my Cap’n Crunch. My mom would tell us to hurry or we’d be late for school.

I recalled discussions that took place over dinner. As Walter Cronkite talked about the latest news from the Vietnam War from the television set in the living room, my mom would ask my father how his day had been.

While they talked, I would sneak food to our dog or cat under that table.

After dinner was finished and the dishes washed and put in the drain rack, I would sit back down at the table to do my homework.

Other nights, my sister, cousins and I would be in the living room while my parents, aunts and uncles would sit around that table and play cards into the night. I can still hear their laughter and the sound of the coffee percolating. We played board games and watched “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “Adam-12,” “Green Acres,” “Mannix,” and “Saturday Night at the Movies.”

On nights that my parents would go out to eat or to see a movie, my great grandmother would come babysit us. She loved to play dominoes. Granny would shuffle those dominoes across the top of that Formica dinette table with the precision of a professional. She not only loved to play dominoes, she took the game quite seriously. Playing the wrong domino at the wrong time would get you corrected very quickly.

“Why didn’t you play your deuce-trey?” She would say. To this day, I still can’t figure out how she always knew which dominoes my sister and I had in our hands.

Family reunions were celebrated around that Formica dinette table. After walking home from a high school football game one Friday night, I entered the front door and went into the kitchen. There, I was surprised to see the smiling face of one of my aunts who lived in California. I had no idea that she was coming for a visit. We sat around the table and caught up on what everyone had been doing.

Many school projects were completed on that table. My grandmother helped me work on a display piece that chronicled The Battle of Bunker Hill. I built a diorama. Made poster boards for Safety Week. I read my Weekly Reader.

I would spread newspapers on the table and put together the Revell model car kits I bought by saving the money I’d earned from helping my grandfather in his shop and mowing yards. My father showed me how to punch out the molded plastic pieces and follow the instructions to take a box full of tiny parts and turn them into a small-scale 1965 Ford Mustang, a miniature Mack Truck, or a World War II airplane that looked so real sitting on the shelf in my room.

That aqua Formica dinette table brought my family together many times over many years. I don’t know whatever happened to it, but that’s OK.

The red one my neighbor finally agreed to sell me brings back all of the same great memories.

Email John at john@johnmoore.net