A Big Yellow Table

By Robin Allen

When I was little, my family had a ridiculous breakfast table. It was as round and bright and yellow as the sun. And big. One of us could spill a glass of milk at breakfast and the splash wouldn’t reach the others until dinner.

My parents bought the big yellow table in Mexico during a trip across the border to shop for silver bracelets, tooled leather purses and marble chess boards. Later, during our musical phase, these trips would yield castanets, maracas and bongo drums. The bright colors and sultry heat of Mexico has a way of enchanting you into believing you can’t live without something, so I can only assume that my dad was under a spell when he decided that we needed a new breakfast table, and it needed to be a big yellow one.

We had made dozens of these border runs, enough to know that by the time we returned home and hauled our Mexican curios into our American rooms, the spell would be broken, our shiny treasures transformed into mere gimcracks. My brother would realize that the life-sized statue of knight’s armor he refused to leave the country without didn’t look as cool next to his unmade twin bed as it did against a backdrop of hundreds of piñatas. On the next trip, my sister would see that the flamingo pink sombrero, which looked festive and adorable on her in the mirrors in Mexico, looked silly in the mirrors at home. The knight ended up serving as sentry in the garage, no doubt embarrassed by his sequined sombrero and whipstitched gun holster.

When we finally got the big yellow table into the house and alongside the rest of our French Provincial furniture, it looked like a sumo wrestler at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I thought my dad would own up to his big yellow mistake, and the knight would finally have a place to sit down and play the bongos. Instead, my dad gave an approving nod and then started dragging in the big yellow chairs.

That evening, my mom assigned us our seats around the big yellow table – my baby sister, Rebecca, and next to her, my younger brother, Paul, who had rheumatoid arthritis and was in a wheelchair. Next, my dad, and my sister Lisa and I in the crook of the breakfast nook.

All six armless chairs were as roomy and heavy as a king’s throne, with ornately carved ladder backs and sticky orange vinyl seats outlined with bumpy brass brads that scoured our bare legs if we weren’t careful. The big yellow chairs were impossible to move quietly over our tiled floor, and mealtimes were a cacophony of scrapes and screeches and, I understand now, the beginning of cooperation.

As children, our rivalries were fierce and relentless. We hid each others’ Barbies and Hot Wheels, snapped crayons into smithereens, and changed television channels right when Jan was whining about Marcia. But now we needed each other’s help. You couldn’t sit down to dinner unless someone helped you pull out your big yellow chair. The circumference of the big yellow table was so vast that all six of us dined without ever touching elbows or knocking knees. Unfortunately, though, we couldn’t reach a thing on our own. If I wanted another pork chop, I’d have to hand my plate to Lisa, who’d hand it to Rebecca, who’d hover it in front of my mom while she placed one on my plate.

This teamwork at mealtimes was simply a matter of necessity, but we soon started cooperating in other ways. Rebecca worried she’d be stuck at the big yellow table, so Lisa and I pulled out her big yellow chair before we sat down to watch Scooby Doo, thus easing her mind that all of us might take a sudden family vacation without her. Paul raced remote-control cars over the kitchen floor, but he couldn’t get out of his wheelchair to retrieve them when they wedged under the big yellow pedestal base, so Rebecca fished them out for him.

Then one day, the big yellow table was gone. I don’t know why my parents decided to end its tenure. Perhaps it was too stained and scarred from years of meals, birthday celebrations, Easter and Halloween candy-swapping meetings and after-dinner homework sessions. Maybe my mom got tired of our guests’ raised eyebrows when they saw it. Or maybe it was simply too big for our new house. A sensible oak table took its place, a small oval one surrounded by cushy beige chairs that rolled about easily on casters.

We still fought over who got the front seat in the station wagon and we still “accidentally” locked each other out of the house, but our time around the big yellow table had taught us to resolve our differences faster and to make concessions more easily. I sometimes helped Lisa clear the table if she helped me load the dishwasher. And Paul stopped telling on “the girls” when we started hiding his Hot Wheels in his room where he could find them instead of in the back yard.

I think my dad was right that day in Mexico. We did need a new breakfast table, and it needed to be a big yellow one.

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