Our kitchen table is an heirloom in training. Sitting here, with
Sitting alone at the table with open notebook, a pen and a fresh cup of coffee in the early morning light of day I can, with an angular glance, see the extensive preparation and practice that it has already put in. At a mere fifteen years, the table is hardly an antique – yet its smooth, blonde-maple surface is already pockmarked with the memorable nicks and ruts left by stray utensils and homework-prodding pencils – stray treatises and Christmas letters.
All embossed in memory and maple.
My wife and I assembled the table the first night we lived in a rural, southwestern Minnesota Victorian we had just moved to from big-city Minneapolis; a new board-with-legs for our small-town fresh start. It fit perfectly in our new, multi-windowed, breakfast alcove; perfectly seating the four members of our family. Our boys, then seven and three, were tucked into sleeping bags in the bare living room, as our furniture still in transit. We labored to assemble the table, determined to have a place at which to properly commemorate our first meal together in our new home and community.
The last screw was secured in the final chair leg just after two a.m.
Today, when the sunlight smothers it, you will see the signs of the life the table has nobly earned in service to our family. Worn spots mark each place setting. Plates and bowls of china, paper, and plastic have been repeatedly set down, slid around, eaten upon, picked up again. A knot on one end of the table has dried out, a small crack has now settled into a browned notch out of the edge. If you put your face close to the table’s edge and look at its surface, you can trace the hard-scrabble pencil indentations of the two boys who completed their homework each night while mom or dad prepared dinner. Look very closely and you can find a worn two-digit, kindergarten math problem overlaid with something more algebraic, more recent. The ancient nine-plus-three-equals-eight-no-twelve is still bold from the pressing of a hot dog-diameter pencil; the more recent equation made by a more elegant and confident ink pen.
The table has made its way south with us.
A million small lines zigzag the surface; swooping in graceful curves atop the maple, resembling a vacant skating rink in January. Every member of our family has triple-axeled this table countless times to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of each of the others. It is a spot of triumph, of place of individual and group confession, reflection, renewal. It has hosted countless meals, endless discussions, prompted numerous revelations; it has echoed the laughter of day-to-day life, heard the solemnity of nightly prayers of thanksgiving and praise, sorrow and intercession. It has been spilled on, bumped into, lived on, all the while quietly, steadily, and smothly supportive.
It has served us well.
Some eight years ago, we uprooted our brood again – this time to New Orleans. The table that once bore mostly pedestrian, traditional Midwestern fare has become attuned to hosting more exotic and at times experimental and quirky meals of gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish. I am certain the resulting changes in dietary spills and slops has only served to enhance the preservation and aging process of the maple; a seasoned patina – the spice of memories – add character to the worn wood
The table is loyal; it has been almost exclsuively devoted to our immediate family; guests have always necessitated a shift to the more expansive dining room version. I do not know how long we will live here in this house, this city; I do not know where the next stop on the journey might be.
Our college and high school boys who once needed help to scootch up their chairs now find little elbow room to spare, and the chairs creak a bit beneath their more considerable heft. Still, neither of them has asked if we will ever get a new kitchen table, or why we just can’t eat in the dining room. The table has adapted nicely over the last few years from a haven of group work, to more solo time with family members; a boy with a bowl of cereal and spread out newspapers or school project is now more common than then the full-fledged mealtime family foursomes of the past.
The table also spends more time sheltering aging dogs seeking the relaxing companionship of their older boy’s stocking feet – adept as they have become at absent-minded petting. Both dogs are equally content to lay there, soaking in affection, less time frenetically awaiting dropped crumbs from younger, less observant boys, who used to provide ample treat-pouncing opportunity.
Mealtimes are cozier than they used to be, though this is just a phase of sorts. Our eldest son is almost through college, and his periodic sojourns home usually find us in the living room, munching pizza and binge-watching Netflix. Mealtimes for three of us frees up some of that vaunted and coveted elbow room, though probably to some occasional chagrin on our part.
Another school year and the table’s adaptability will again be tested, as the term ‘table for two’ will be de rigueur.
Someday the table may serve in an entirely different capacity – maybe a first-apartment-hand-me-down for one of the boys, or maybe someday many years down the road and to the puzzlement of a spouse, a much-wanted keepsake for one of them.
Not that they are likely to ask about its eventual fate now, but if they do I can just tell them, to their confusion and my satisfaction, that this little kitchen table is, indeed, our heirloom in training.