Sunday, June 5, 2011

Passing on a table, and memories

There's an old, round wooden table with a light maple finish that's been in our backyard playhouse (read: storage facility) for several years now.

It is one of the only pieces of new, wood furniture I remember my parents ever purchasing and their purchasing it is one of my earliest memories. I'm guessing it was 1962, making the table just shy of 50 years old.

My mother loved old things and, rather than buying new furniture, she would pick up tables, chairs, lamps, etc. -- you name it -- at estate sales and antique shops. She would strip, sand and refinish pieces herself. I have a lot of those today.

I suspect her love of all things old was as much about her being frugal as it was her affinity for antiques, but she was inceredibly zealous about it.

To be honest, as I was growing up, I got tired of some of these pieces. The chairs were rickety and squeaky, and sometimes fell apart. I got tired of telling my friends -- and got tired of my parents telling my friends -- not to lean back in a chair, as guys inherently do, lest it would break. I have even had a recent reminder of that as I had to take a couple of their old dining room chairs, which are now in my dining room, to be repaired a few months ago.

Today, of course, with the benefit of age, I appreciate that furniture because of its history. I look at one of those old tables or chairs and I see past the flaws. I see my mother, stripping off the old stain, sanding it down and making it into something . . . . well, not new by any means, but fit to be used in a family's home.

Back to the round table. Around 1962, as I said, my parents bought this table. It's perfectly round, about three or four feet in diameter and it seats four, or five in a pinch.

This was our kitchen table in four different houses as I was growing up, its longest stint being in the house my folks built in late 1966 and where my dad was still living when he died five years ago. Countless meals were eaten at that table by my parents, my brother and me, and many family meetings took place there. Games were played. Pinewood Derby cars were constructed. Gallons of coffee were consumed by my mother and her neighbor friends at this table.

Over the years there were nicks and scratches and of course countless spills. It was the centerpiece of a not-very-large kitchen, so it absorbed grime from cooking. My mom always meant to put a new finish on it.

When I went to law school in 1980, my parents had become emtpy nesters. They disassembled the top, round piece of the table from its single pedestal and gave it to me, and put a smaller one in their kitchen. My dad and I packed the round table into a U-Haul and moved it into my new apartment. We placed it in front of a picture window. My mother found some used (of course) chairs to place around it.

Wife and I married in 1984. She moved in with me and brought an old dining room table into the marriage. We put that in front of the picture window and crammed the round table into a very small kitchen nook in our very small kitchen.

The table went with us to two more houses in Little Rock and to the three we have lived in here. High chairs were pushed up to it. Homework was done there and games were played. A few years ago we once again disassembled it and decided to store it.

Yesterday I took the top piece of the table from the playhouse. I set it up on a makeshift work bench I had set up in the garage. I washed it down and stripped off the old, nearly-50-year-old stain. I stripped away scratches and water marks from its years of use, which came off quite stubbornly.

I will now sand it down and apply a new finish. It will not, by any means, look new, but it will be a solid table, ready for many more years of use. Maybe I will find some old, rickety chairs to place around it.

I will present it to Older Son and his bride, and they will be the third generation to use it. They will sit there and eat their meals as newlyweds and, who knows, at some point they might be pushing a high chair up next to it, playing games on it and/or helping with homework on it. It will be disassembled from its pedestal when they move. It will withstand more nicks, scratches and spills. I think it will serve them well.

They might decide to eventually store it for a time, and they might eventually pass it on to another generation. I know it's just a table and a table is a thing but I hope that, eventually, they will appreciate its heritage and look past its flaws to someone who stripped and stained it, then refinished it just for them, with a big dose of love and good wishes.


Kelly said...

This is quite poignant, Bob. I honestly can't recall the table, but I'm sure I saw it on one occasion or another.

Hal Johnson said...

Love this, Bob.

LaneyD said...

Love it. I, like your mom, love old stuff and am currently working on a $10 old oak table now. It has no sentimental value, however, but my house is filled with my grandmother's treasures. I certainly didn't know your mom had the love of refinishing stuff. You better is not far away!

Debby said...

As if you do not have enough to do at the you're refinishing furniture?!!! I stand in awe. (and hope that you are practicing dance moves while you sand...)

Truly though, very nice gift. I like sentimental gifts, gifts that connect us all. Good job.

Pam said...

I love this, too, Bob!

Steve H. said...

Great Bob. When I visit my parents house I love to look at some of the items around the house, furniture or otherwise, that I grew up with. I'm such a sentimental fool... glad we'd make good company then. :)

Pencil Writer said...

I love that! Those kinds of memories are priceless. Thanks for sharing the history and future of a utilitarian treasure.

I'll bet oldest son and wife will adore it--for many years to come.