AS we sat at the dining table chatting long after supper one evening, The Man and I talked about the moves we had made and the children who had no choice in the matter. If we are able to cut off our emotions at a time of big change or tough decisions, we credit it to the many times we had no say in how our own life would pan out for the next few months or years. It was always only after the logistics were ironed out that we would allow ourselves time and space to breathe and to grieve.
One of the many items on a long to-do list each time we move is the decision on which, if any, furniture to take.
On our first-ever move away from the country, we decided to bring all our Filipiniana pieces to bring comfort in the familiar and in the furniture with which we had a connection. True, they are <<only>> inanimate objects and we should be less attached to them. But they also provided a sense of home. It was thus that the matter was settled, all the big bulky but beautiful furniture should come along.
We did not really have the luxury of fully defining our home interior style. As a young couple deciding to marry but not having all the resources we wished we had had, we worked with half a house full of second-hand furniture in a native antique aesthetic. When the time came to add a few pieces of our own, we matched the look by doing our furniture selection in Teresita’s Antique Shop. This was twenty-five years ago, and Teresita’s was still housed on the top floor of the parking section of the Maharlika Building.
We oohed and aahed at all the beautiful antiques we still couldn’t afford, and settled on similarly gorgeous pieces made with less pricey wood to match our budget. Excitedly, we received our new pieces in our Quezon City townhouse and proceeded to make them part of our home.
But then things out of our control happened. A series of events, unfortunate and otherwise, took us away from that first home and onto a second and third in a rather quick succession. Each time, Teresita’s pieces naturally came along. The move to the fourth home was not to be a simple one, as we later found out. A job offer fell into The Man’s lap, one that we were eager to take and almost immediately said yes to before we had worked out the logistics of the move.
The relocation company came, took a look at the volume of furniture we had, scribbled down some notes, came back a few weeks later to box up and whisk everything away. That was one of our first big lessons in being unable to control everything about our moves.
It took close to four months before we could be reunited with our mix of Teresita’s furniture and the hand-me-downs. By then the pieces had traveled over the sea to join us where we were waiting eagerly to move out of the temporary apartment so we could settle into our own space.
A platera that I was particularly fond of, was unwrapped and stood proudly in the new dining room. To be honest, it was way too big for our apartment space. The footprint was not suited for a small white box, and neither were the curves in the glass doors nor the carved section of the cabinet face.
The early twentieth-century design might have been more expected in Lola’s ancestral home in the tropics than in a temperate city with harsh winters and sometimes just as harsh characters to be encountered in the streets. Some days I was very proud of that platera cramping up the already-small living and dining area. Some days I wish I could have gotten rid of it and replaced it with a clean-looking, if not rather soulless, substitute from IKEA.
But in those early years abroad, it was practically a take two of our hungry years as a young married couple. We could not have afforded to replace perfectly usable furniture at a whim, and what a good thing too, for the logistical demands would have been a nightmare without the benefit of a moving company this time. So even as our needs evolved in the nearly three years we spent there, we kept the platera. Even if its function had to evolve over time as well, then that was how it had to be. Sometimes it held dishes and crockery as it was originally designed to. Other times we had to clear the cabinet and inside store household effects and some toys. There may even have been a time it was a holder of purely decorative pieces.
What my older and more world-weary self knows now is this: it was never about the platera or any of the other furniture. It was my own doubts of whether I was meant to fit in that space that was a new country, a new city, a new culture all wrapped up in a new language I was still trying to figure out with a new identity. Some days I stood proud and ready to take my place in my new circles. Other days I had wished I could make my doubts and anxieties disappear, to be replaced with a newer, if rather soulless, version of me.
Since that first foray into living away, we have had several others, including a first return to the home country. We decided to ground the platera and its ilk the second time we left for a life abroad. We didn’t want to deal with the trappings, we didn’t want to worry about fit or function. And now that we are back in the home country again and have taken the platera out of hiding and put it into active use, we study it and marvel at how it is a survivor. For it has weathered two arduous months-long trips across the seas, being handled by numerous hands as it is wrapped and lifted and unloaded. It is almost a miracle then in twenty-five years and multiple moves, none of the glass has broken. Now it once again takes pride of place in a small and new apartment. The one where we were sitting and chatting long after supper one evening, at the dining table next to where the platera stands.
But what the future holds for the platera — or the people who call it its owners — no one right now can know.