The funky table

2011-04-05 00:00

I'M in the supermarket aisle to grab a few of those basic necessities of life. Music emanates from somewhere near the ceiling that's reminiscent of "home", which makes my eyes sting.

A combo of music and supermarkets just gets me going and tends to bring those inner floodgates close to the surface. I bite my lip and feel a hardness in my breath.

Food is part of the institution of the soul. The body's fuel. The hearth of the family. Supermarketing is associated with fine family fare and celebratory or sometimes maudlin gatherings. And the table becomes the epicentre of all these happenings.

Ours was called "The Funky Table". I'd purchased it in 1993 in a second-hand furniture shop in what was then called Commercial Road. I could swear it had been a prison table — long, narrow, a morbid dead grey, with a few rough antediluvian nails dangerously protruding and a foot rest worn down by many shoes rubbing against it. Basically it was buggered. I proudly got it delivered to our home, much to everyone's disgust. "Lunatic Mum", my kids probably thought.

We acquired custom-made benches to use at the table, comfortably seating 14. The next 15 years we shared meals and functions with a rich, diverse selection of family and friends around our now cheerful green Funky Table in a spacious sunflower-yellow Funky Room. We celebrated significant birthdays, a wedding luncheon, my mum's funeral tea, a couple of hens' parties and baby showers, my 50th birthday dinner and various grandkiddie's parties, plus their messy painting, play dough and baking activities. Esoteric chats were held at the green table and creative fabric painting and decoupage workshops, plus swot-ins when several of us in the family were studying.

The Funky Table moved with us from home to home, always the heart of the family. In our last home in South Africa it lived on the veranda, as it was too long to fit inside. It became worn, weathered, sanded down and repainted. It was adorned with hand-painted fabrics, candles and glass jars bulging with hydrangeas. Many Christmases were spent at the Funky Table, when it would be decorated with Christmas crackers, tinsel, silvered pine cones and St Joseph's lilies. Add hefty food platters and old Funky would creak and groan.

I often wondered where Funky had been before. I tried to visualise a gang of inmates seated round it in prison clothes, scoffing down fat slices of bread dunked into steaming broth with large gnarled hands. I suppose I was biased, believing that Funky felt more contented being a jovial green, standing on our veranda, where my grandchildren played hide and seek under the table, sliding along its foot rest.

It was serendipitously a family conversation at Funky which triggered my decision to apply to work in New Zealand. We also had a last symbolic family candlelight supper at Funky, a big moon watching this unfolding. We've been living here for the past two-and-a-half years. Funky was bequeathed to our older son and his wife when we left South Africa. And when we return for holidays, we generally celebrate with a lekker braai around Funky, next to their pool.

Here in Auckland, we miss what Funky symbolised for us. We still have family and friends visiting, but Funky's absence leaves a conspicuous gap, along with old mates and home nosh. Here Maoris traditionally have a hangi (food, which is called kai, cooked in an earth oven). I still plan to master the art.

We entertain our Oriental, Asian, British, Aussie, Dutch and Kiwi colleagues and neighbours, together with some "Saffer" family and friends. Food includes tasty local boerewors and biltong, my home-cooked bobotie, and, of course, Mrs Ball's chutney, combined with sushi, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Korean, Indonesian, European and "Kiwiana" foods. Adapting has made life interesting.

But my eyes still sting when I'm pushing a trolley to purchase items for a function, knowing there's no Funky Table to share meals at with mates and family back in good old Maritzburgh. Especially when Johnny Clegg's Scatterlings of Africa wafts down the supermarket aisles. Then I'm allowed to have a teeny snivel.

• Eve Hemming is an educational psychologist now living in New Zealand.

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