Everything is on the table

Our kitchen table is an heirloom in training.

Sitting alone at this 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 for remembrance that it has already put in. At a mere sixteen-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 to family,  assorted Christmas cards and 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 into from big-city Minneapolis; a new board-with-legs for our small-town fresh-start. The nondescript table fit perfectly in our new, multi-windowed, breakfast alcove; perfectly seating the four members of our family.  While we read the instructions, inserting the right bolt into the right hole, our boys, then seven and three, were tucked soundly 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, a decade-and-a-half later, when the southern sunlight of our now-home in New Orleans 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 – sometimes dropped. 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 100_49891while mom or dad prepared dinner.

Look more closely and you can find a worn two-digit, kindergarten math problem overlaid with something more algebraic, far 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 now-worn 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  100_4986life, 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. Always smoothly supportive.

It has served us well.

Some ten 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; it is a seasoned patina – the spice of memories – adding character to the worn, blonde, wood

The table is loyal; it has been almost exclusively devoted to our immediate family; guests have usually necessitated a shift to the more expansive, less lived-on, dining room table.  It, too, has stories to tell, but nothing approaching the quantity of those with that our kitchen table could regale us. And now, our time here is coming to a close; both boys have graduated high school, one has completed college as well,  while the younger begins his collegiate experience. We are headed off on new adventures, different adventures.

Our inexpensive-when-purchased, still not priceless, D.I.Y. table will accompany us.100_4979_00

Boys who once needed help to scootch up their chairs now find little elbow room to spare when we are all together. The table’s 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 two aging dogs seeking the relaxing companionship of their boy’s stocking feet –  adept as each has become at absent-minded, foot petting.  Both dogs are equally content to lay there, just soaking in affection, less time frenetically awaiting dropped crumbs from younger, less observant boys,  who used to provide ample treat-pouncing opportunities.

Mealtimes are cozier than they used to be, though this is just a phase of sorts. Our sons have more hectic schedules, and sporadic all-of-us-home home evenings often find us in the living room, munching pizza and binge-watching Netflix – another family ritual once confined to Friday nights, now preciously savored whenever we can scrounge one up. One son still lives at home; mealtimes for three of us frees up some of that vaunted, and coveted, elbow room, though probably to some occasional chagrin on our part.

Soon, 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 100_4977puzzlement 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.

Dog Dazed of Summer

The other day we went to the beach with friends and brought our two dogs along. The north shore of Lake Ponchartrain at Louisiana’s Fontainebleu State Park is a great place to spend a hot summer’s day

We had been there before, but this was the first time we had taken the dogs.


Lucy, our rat terrier, is the veteran of our dog team, having just celebrated her tenth birthday. We have had her since she was six months old, and she has never been much of a fan of water – getting her to wade in past ankle depth was an accomplishment. Sadie, our blue heeler-spaniel mix on the other hand, supposedly loves the water, though we had no first-hand experience. Sadie joined our household last August courtesy of some friends of ours, who needed to ‘dog downsize’ as they have health issues which made a big dog problematic for them.


Hence, a wonderfully goofy canine addition to our family, which has really re-energized a had-become-fairly-complacent Lucy. They are great playmates and companions.

So we packed up to head to the beach with all the required accoutrements for two dogs, a mom, a dad and two teenage boys would need, adding (for good measure) eldest son’s girlfriend. We were also joined at the beach by our good friends Terri and Rae – Sadie’s previous family. We got to the beach and set up all of our stuff, Lucy curiously sniffing around the shoreline, Sadie straining her leash to get into the water.

A wonderful day was had by all. Sadie indeed, loves the water. For five solid hours, she left the lake only for a brief break at lunch time, and when being handed off to someone else, as dogs must always be on their leashes in a state park, and we had forgotten to bring her tie-down stake.

Sam on Sadie-pulled floatie; “Mush!”

Not that anchoring her to the beach would have been all that successful. Sadie spent the entire time plodding and dogpaddling the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, pulling at one time or another, every human member of our merry little band around on our various floating devices, proudly channeling the spirits of Iditarod champions. As you can be a couple of hundred feet from shore and still be in chest deep water, Sadie had a lot of ground she could cover – and she did.

Meanwhile, while Lucy spent a considerable time in the water, she rarely got in past chin level, and when she did, her furious dog-paddle and facial expression seemed to question the sanity of all concerned. She happily spent the bulk of the day roaming the beach and lounging beneath one of our beach chairs.

Finally tuckered out after a day in the Louisiana sun, we all piled in the van for the hour-long drive home. It was an uneventful trip, and once home we immediately took the dogs into the backyard for a shower, us humans doing likewise indoors. Everyone was satisfied and relaxed.

But a few hours later, Sadie began whimpering and favoring her hindquarters. Any attempts at trying to touch her in the tail area was met with yelps and cowering; her bushy, perpetually wagging tail was curled underneath her, and she walked like a tired old dog. We could find no wounds, or any visible hint of injury, nothing was swollen. But even offering her a treat could not coax Sadie’s tail into action, though she did snarf down the offered goodies in quick order which we took as a good sign. Deciding that a visit to the E.R. vet was not needed, we decided to see how she was after a good night’s sleep

The next morning, a still-pooped pooch was actually (sort of) wagging (twitching?) her tail, though with nowhere near her usual exuberance, but she was sitting down and getting back up again a lot less gingerly, which had me thinking it far less likely that a costly visit to the vet would be in order. But to be on the safe side, I spent some of my usual early morning web surfing time to check out dogs with sprained/broken tails.

The marvels of our technological age.

“Aww, poor Sadie. Should have stayed in shade with me.”

In very short order, I learned that sprained tails are very common (the bigger the dog, the more common the ailment) and can be caused from a wide range of basic, dog like activities. I learned that big dogs quite often sprain their tails doing everything from wagging their tails too vigorously, to striking them on something (kitchen counter or furniture) while wagging, often in anticipation of a treat. But my favorite tail sprain reason? Some dogs apparently injure themselves as such simply by chasing their tail too vigorously. Finally, I learned that big dogs (Sadie is 61 pounds of pooch) that aren’t generally ‘working dogs’ are also prone to spraining their tails by simply overdoing a cherished activity.

The more I read, the more big dogs seem like middle-aged males, who have kept the Tylenol and Bengay folks in business for years by straining, pulling and bruising various bodily tissues from simply overdoing certain basic behaviors, or, as they say, having their ‘egos write checks that their bodies can’t cash.’

Just for the record, while I have at times succumbed to such physical over-enthusiasm, I have never sprained my tail doing so.

Of all the items I found (at reputable sites) on the topic, this one nailed our situation pretty well. From the ‘Ask a Vet’ column on dogster.com; “Trauma to the tail is, in my experience, the most common cause for a tail to dangle limply from its base. In these instances, strains and muscle injuries are more common than broken tails. For instance, many dogs use their tails to help them paddle when they swim. If a dog engages in an especially big day of watersports, he may wake up with a really sore tail the next day. This condition, which I affectionately call swimmer’s tail (a term that is not an official medical diagnosis), lasts a couple of days and usually resolves on its own with rest.”

Who knew?

At this writing, Sadie’s tail movement is getting better, though it is still more awkward sway than ‘Yay!’ and her model-runway swagger is more drunken-sailor stagger.

Maybe the next time we go to the lake, we’ll just rent her a kayak.