One heirloom piece that I am taking care of in behalf of my family is a handsome dining table made of nárra, a reddish tropical hardwood with understated, consistently-patterned grains. Most likely, my paternal grandparents must have purchased this early in their marriage in the mid-1920s; family lore says all their children, including my Dad, were born on this table as my lóla was far more comfortable delivering at home without fear her babies will get mixed up with other newborns in a hospital.
It also must have been a contemporary piece then; it is ingeniously designed to extend by simply lifting the top and pulling segmented sections on each end. Moreover, it is in a purely Art Déco style that was so popular in the Philippines and around the world during that time.
Now, I've had many meals on this table, both in my lola's house and much later, in our home where it was kept. But it was not until I brought it to Lipa that I discovered it has finely-sculpted relief work on the end supports. Secretly, I thanked my grandparents for their good taste, selecting a handsome, practical table with a leaf design that looks timeless, unpretentious, and fairly masculine. After all, they could've been swayed by some furniture salesman with hackneyed themes like fleur-de-lis or lyres or worse, festooned garlands and ribbons!
But what really floored me was when I asked one of my staff to determine what leaves these might be. Without batting an eyelash, she (sort of sarcastically) exclaims: "eh di dahon ng kape! Ayán ô, may búnga pà" (what else but coffee leaves! Look, it even has [coffee] cherries).
Holy cow, coffee leaves!? How did I not realize that all along? How did I not SEE that all these years?!? Evidently, they are robusta, liberica, and excelsa, the very three varieties we have in 1784!
Clearly, this is Providence. How else can anyone explain this? It sparked my interest to research more about my grandparents' purchases. I know for a fact that the bulk of his furniture were clearly from the House of Púyat, who were then perhaps the best (maybe even the only legitimate) fine furniture brand available (to my generation, they are the same brand who had the AMF license to make bowling lanes and billiard tables of Coronado fame). Undoubtedly, the style and the workmanship could not have been sourced elsewhere but from them. Besides, my grandfather used to live in cálle Rodriguez Arias in San Miguél, Manila, on the same street where Púyat's workshop/factory was.
But why the coffee leaves?
|A 1924 invoice from my grandfather's coffee (and chocolate) trading company, signed "I de la Cruz," who was to be his wife, my grandmother, the succeeding year.|
A little-known fact, even among my family, is that prior to my grandfather's long-term and successful bakery business, he first tried his hand in coffee and cocoa production and trading. In the 1936-1937 edition of "Who's Who in the Philippines," my grandfather was written up as "was sucessively engaged in printing, chocolate and coffee factory, bakery. In the grocery business since 1920."
The dining table must be bespoke, what else could it be? Perhaps when it was time for my grandfather to marry, move out of San Miguél and build his cálle Legarda house, he most likely asked his industrialist neighbor Don Gonzálo to organize for him his furniture. I would not be surprised if the process of selecting the monogrammed bedroom suite, the elegant aparadórs (one is in 1784 as well), and the sála set were perhaps delegated to a subordinate to streamline options for my grandfather to choose from. But for his dining table, the gentleman furniture maker personally chose the ornamentation appropriate for his young coffee-trading client.
They had no clue that some ninety years later, such a mundane decision of theirs would quietly affirm an uncertain grandson's ambivalent path to coffee farming.
Thanks, Lôlo (how I wish you were around to teach me now).