My Rosebud and the Table

Written By: Stephen  Rosen

MY ‘ROSEBUD’ AND ‘THE TABLE’ Stephen Rosen [Excerpted from “YOUTH, MIDDLE-AGE, AND YOU-LOOK-GREAT: DYING TO COME BACK AS A MEMOIR”] The great Orson Welles movie, “Citizen Kane”, was modeled on a super-rich publishing tycoon American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and ends with the cremation of an old sled named “Rosebud”. Kane was… “…a man who got everything he wanted, and then lost it. Maybe “Rosebud” was something he couldn’t get, or something he lost. In the ending of the film, it is revealed to the audience that “Rosebud” was the name of the sled from [his] childhood – an allusion to the only time in his life when he was truly happy. The sled, thought to be junk, is burned and destroyed in a basement furnace…” I have a “Rosebud”: those small, oaken building blocks I joyously played with alone as an infant for hours on end. They came in various shapes: square, oblong, circular, round and square pillars…and I feel happy just thinking about them now, because they happily led me into visualizing three dimensions easily, into physics, into making butterflies and sculptures. And into making The Table. Unlike William Randolph Hearst, my “Rosebud”, my happy-remembered building blocks, led me into a sweet and juicy life. I am going to talk about The Table, an important table I built that followed me for fifty-three years from Owego to Flushing to Manhattan to East Hampton, through two marriages and six careers. I designed and built The Table out of marble and mahogany in 1959 in Owego, New York when I was a physicist at IBM Research Labs there doing classified military work on anti-missile defense. This was my first marriage, my first professional job as a physicist, and my first adventure in living together with a woman. We had rented a 110 acre unused farm ten minutes from the Lab. I enjoyed that brief commute, the sense of a new direction in my life, the freedom and time to walk the rambling wooded hills with our two dogs, and spacious land stretching out to infinity in all directions. Merry-X was a sleek rust-colored Irish Setter, and Max was a liver-and-white English Springer Spaniel—fond companions on our bucolic walks. For entertainment in farm country, I created projects to work with my hands. One was a wagon-wheel I converted into an outdoor table, a lazy-susan. Another was The Table. A local hotel had closed down and was selling its furnishings, including slabs of white veined marble slabs from the hotel bathroom walls. I bought a slab about five feet wide, two feet across, and three-quarters of an inch thick. Must have weighed about thirty pounds. Solid marble. I had to figure out how to mount it, and a colleague at the Lab suggested I purchase mahogany. He had a woodworking shop at home and offered to mill mahogany framing pieces so that they had three-quarter-inch slots. When assembled, the mahogany formed an elegant, trim picture-frame embracing the marble slab, which began to look like a table top. It lacked only legs. I constructed a rectangular assembly to support the framed marble, resting on the rigid frame to which the mahogany legs were affixed by glue and screws. I was very proud of my creation, my Marble and Mahogany Table. We moved back in 1961 to New York to a small apartment in Flushing, and of course The Table came with us. I started teaching physics at the Maritime College at Fort Schuyler on the Bronx side of the Whitestone Bridge; the Throgg’s Neck Bridge was under construction, a marvel to watch the pieces fitting together like a huge erector set– just like the way my Table and my childhood building blocks came together. At the same time, I began studying and working towards a PhD in physics. I sat and studied at this Marble and Mahogany Table every evening and weekends, coming to know its contours and textures intimately. The marble was smooth. The rich-hued mahogany reminded me of the rust-colored Irish Setter we had to leave behind. As I focused more on my studies and grading test papers, gradually, imperceptibly, the Table receded into the background, especially after our beautiful daughter Lisa and handsome son Daniel were born …and they became the center of our attention. We moved to a large apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and the Table moved with us. My dissertation papers were spread on the Table, and that soon became my major pre-occupation and focus until completion in 1966. In 1968, we moved to Paris for a year while I worked at the Institut d’Astrophysique, and when we returned, I moved out of the apartment, sadly ending our marriage. I rented a bachelor studio apartment nearby, so I could visit Daniel and Lisa regularly. I brought The Table with me, and it became the platform for writing articles, and my book, “Future Facts”, published in 1976, and then “Weathering”, published in 1979. I endowed The Table with special meaning — huge chunks of my writing and reading life were connected, as were personal memories mingled with nostalgic feelings. In 1985, Celia and I married. I sold my bachelor studio co-op, and I moved into her apartment and her house in East Hampton. The Table came with me, and it ended up residing in a shade arbor or pergola I had built as its new home out in the back of what is now our jointly-owned property. The Table had weathered the storms and uncertainties of moving, as I had, but required repairs and maintenance, as I do. Not quite surgery, as I needed — but serious attention, as I needed. I re-glued the loose mahogany frame securely to the marble. I re-enforced the wobbly mahogany legs. I re-finished the marble and mahogany surfaces with modern preservatives to protect against the elements. Eventually the marble was replaced by mahogany. I guess like The Table, I myself have been re-finished (by my marriage to Celia) and I’ve become preserved by modern medicine and a life well-lived. In East Hampton, when I pass The Table en route from our back bedroom to the compost heap, I admire my handiwork. When we have visitors seated in the pergola, The Table becomes a side-board upon which we place food we cooked together and wine waiting to be served – plus flatware, serving dishes, beverages. These guests are seated at another much-larger table I constructed entirely from very expensive mahogany acquired (at a bargain, of course) from the yard sale of a retired elderly carpenter. The two Tables tell stories of articles and books written, of dinner-guests visiting, of stimulating conversations ping-ponging back-and-forth across its surfaces. They also appear to frame, and to book-end, my life. ####