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If Old Tables Could Talk

HH and I have been contemplating replacing our dining room table and chairs set. Actually we’ve talked about for years now, as we see more and more wear and tear on this old table and more reasons to upgrade to accommodate larger groups for dinner. Just the other night, we finally came to agreement, perhaps the timing is right, as we now notice the middle leaf of the table beginning to sag. Then we began to discuss the origins of our table and chairs set, and boy, the memories flew between us. I was so moved, that I thought, this is one of those stories that could only be truly appreciated by those who have walked in similar shoes.

Married only one year, we had very little furniture, and the few we did own, were remnants of old college days bought at a garage sale or two. Buying new furniture at that point in our lives together, well, it was impossible. We mixed matched blue chairs and an octagon shaped glass table which wobbled back and forth with a passing breeze. We made do.

Upon moving into our first home, my in-laws donated to our cause. They gave us a wooden table that they had used years ago, big enough to insert a leaf, and sit eight. Before trashing the octagon mess of a table, we decided to strip, refinish and polyurethane the wooden table ourselves. The stain on the wooden table was very dark, almost black, and we hoped to lighten the wood and bring out a brighter color. I remember my mother in law, before we started work on the table, commenting on our upcoming process. She said, “Oh see this mark here, and that scratch there?”

I said, “Of course, but we’ll sand those marks out, you’ll see.”

She said, “Well, even if they don’t come out, it’s okay, you know, it’s what makes up the history of that wood. It’s where so and so did this or scissors slipped or a baby got hold of a fork here or there. But it makes up part of the history of the table, in a sense, history of the family.”

In my immature mind, I thought to myself, ‘Is she embarrassed by the table she gave to us?’

Whoa, did I ever have that all wrong.

Needless to say, it was a bigger job than we had expected. Stripping it alone took weeks of daily work at it, airing out our home to release the fumes from the stripping agents. We worked at that table for hours and hours each day, at night working by the light of a lamp in the corner of the room.

Finally it was stripped enough to stain. We found a light one we really liked, and went over it with such care for our *new* piece of furniture. We then polyurethaned the surface to waterproof it, give it that shine, and we finished our work, proudly ready to dump the old octagon. I saw that some scratches didn’t come out, but I didn’t care, we had a place to sit, and grow our family to sit around it.

Now on to the chairs: For our wedding my parents gave us a check, and for us, it was a fortune. $500.00 can’t buy you much in regards to solid furniture, but, back then, we were so careful with this new found wealth. My parents’ only request: ‘Buy something to start your life together, that you can look back and say, that was a gift from my parents.’

We took that advice to heart. We didn’t pay bills with it, we set it aside, until we knew just what to do with it. With that precious fortune, we set out to get chairs for our beautiful table. We needed eight to complete the set. We looked several places that sold affordable wooden chairs, that would also stain them the correct color to match our table stain.

We finally found a furniture store that sold a simple chair, at $50 dollars each, adding a few more dollars to stain each one to our liking. We brought in one leg of the table to the shop, and sure enough, the chairs were well on their way. I called my Dad, and told him, that had we had figured out what we were spending their gift on, and he said, “Can’t wait to see it”.

Next time he came to our home, first thing, he came in, went to the table and chairs, and said, “So this is what we bought you?”

Inside I panicked, ‘Oh no’, I thought, ‘it wasn’t what he had in mind. Did he think we squandered this little fortune?’

He cracked a huge smile, said, “ Wow, they look great. They match perfectly. What a great choice. The table! So much work, and it looks amazing.”

Years have gone by since that first few years of marriage. Each child that we had, sat at this table, one by one they each came, enjoying so many memorable events at this exact table. Over the years our kids have had 29 birthdays, countless dinners, breakfasts and lunches. We’ve had homework projects produced from this table. We’ve used this table for everything from timeouts for the kids to sewing projects for me, to HH paying the bills. And oh geez how many holidays? From Easter brunches to Christmas dinners, Valentines candlelight dinners, to New Year’s celebrations…. I used this table to sort and fold laundry, do puzzles with the kids, paint, play dough, clean hamster cages, decorate cookies, wrap presents, pray and the list goes on. Not only that, the memories of the events that happened here, the fights, the loving conversations, the hearing of bad news, the hearing of good news.  Babies learned to walk by pushing these exact chairs around!  From split drinks to permanent marker, from scissor slip ups to utensils digging in, from singing to laughing to crying: Well this table has seen it all. If tables could talk!

Each unintentional mark, scuff, scratch, dent, sag or chip marks a chapter in a family’s life. Each old table sees its shares of the good and the bad, but what remains is the wear, and I bet, if a table could feel, ours would be proud. It has stood strong and stable for twelve years now. (Not counting the years my in-laws used it for their family).

The other night, we examined our old table. We saw at the Babe’s spot, indeed, there were indentations from his fork hitting a tad too hard. We noticed a scratch here and there, from one of our kids’ projects. We saw crevices where food had lost it’s way and found a new home, caked permanently. We reminisced about how well this table has served our family. I have asked HH for a new table for years. And the other night, I asked him one more question, “Can we wait a bit before replacing it? It’s hard to let go of such a piece of our family history.”

I guess the timing isn’t quite right yet. Even our furniture plays a part in our family’s life. By each imperfect part of it, we can find our family has lived, truly lived. We’ve used this great gift of a table and chairs, from each side of our families, to create our own family’s history.

It will be a sad day when we bid goodbye to this old table and chairs. Perhaps it’s one of those things, that gets put in the basement, covered with dust, until we find one of our children, in need of furniture, thus beginning anew the adventures of this old wood…..Perhaps it won't take my kids twelve years, as it did me, to truly understand those wise words of my mother-in-law.  It surely wasn't out of embarassement, it was pride, pride in knowing her family had really lived, and she allowed it, and the table knew it.


C. Castanares said…
I liked this vry much. Very cute! Thanks!!
Roses for Saint Colette

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