The mahogany table has been in my possession for more than twenty years. Today I stood beside it – wrapping the last of the presents – and wondered if furniture has memories.
What if this table absorbed the conversations held around it during its nearly 100 years serving our family?
Now the table’s top is marred with places where hot things should not have been placed, scratched by children who should not have scratched, and darkened by time to a rich-reddish brown.
The table belonged to my great-grandparents, who died in the early 1930s. The original homestead burned in 1916, so I suspect the Duncan Phyfe-style table was purchased during that period.
My grandmother was the youngest of three girls. Losing their house was the first of two tragedies that my grandmother would experience in her childhood. The second was when her middle sister was killed in a car accident at 20, on a Saturday night date.
Did the family gather at the table after her funeral? Were there every any joyful meals at that table during my grandmother’s childhood after Mae died? Did my grandfather sit there to meet his future in-laws before he married my grandmother?
I know that after my mother was born in 1932, the family celebrated her Baptism at the farm. Did three generations celebrate around that table?
After my great-grandfather died, my grandparents and their two daughters moved back to the Indiana farm from Springfield, Illinois, to care for grandmother’s mother.
The farmhouse wasn’t as modern as the large brick home my grandparents owned in Springfield, and my grandparents updated the house. Certain things stayed, such as the mahogany dining room table.
The girls were just four and eight when they moved back; my mother, the youngest, was a sweet, shy girl with two brunette pigtails. Her older sister was more gregarious and often rose early to milk the cows with her grandmother, while my mother slept in.
My grandparents often entertained his business associates from Fort Wayne and her diploma school nursing classmates.
Who sat at the table? Did my mother and her sister have birthday parties, or celebrate special holidays? Did my mom do her homework at that table, and get distracted looking out the large picture window to the open fields beyond.
I know that when my mother had my father over for dinner for the first time, my grandmother made melon balls. My father’s family had less formal meals, and he had never seen or heard of a melon ball. Was the dinner awkward; he was 22 and she was 21.
My grandparents continued to use the table, even after they built a smaller, new house in town. My grandfather died a decade later, and my grandmother lived alone in the house. As a Registered Nurse, she had provided good care for my grandfather as he declined. When the grip of Alzheimer’s disease tightened, she needed more care and moved to the Lutheran Home in 1987. The table sat unused.
My mother had her own furniture, and she was always less focused on “things” than her daughter. So the table came to me.
At first we squeezed it into the small dining room of our townhouse, but when we purchased our first home a month before our son was born I couldn’t wait to host a family dinner on the old table.
If this block of wood on three carved pedestal feet does have a memory, I hope it remembers December 25, 1990, when my mother and father, brother and wife and 6-month-old son, and our family celebrated a special and magical holiday.
That Christmas dinner is burned into my memory, with our son wonderful chubby stage and his younger infant cousin with a perpetual look of awe at the holiday bulbs.
We used my grandmother’s good lace tablecloth. We even used the six wobbly chairs, plus two high chairs pulled up to the table. The dining room, again small in our very first and quite compact house, was filled by the table and more Christmas joy that I can ever remember.
Later, we put the baby boys in Santa suits and they “raced” on the floor as babies do.
Does the table remember the two little red elves and the overcooked green bean casserole and the sweet Ossian ham and piles of half-eaten Cheerios beneath the Fisher-Price highchairs?
Does the table remember when Santa brought my Chatty Kathy on Christmas morning? Go back to 1964, and the table is set in a large dining room with a huge glass window that showcases the expanse of the family farm, now fallow after harvest. The fields are covered with a coating of snow, and our family of four has driven the seven miles over the river, and through the woods, to the proverbial grandmother’s house.
Does the table remember the taste of my grandmother’s powdered sugar-covered rum balls, or Aunt Zoe’s awful peanut brittle that she mailed from Denver every year? By the time it arrived in Indiana, it was stale and in tiny pieces. Does the table remember us laughing about it, and eating it anyway?
Does the table remember the shy, petite pigtailed brunette who adored her older sister and always helped her mother set the table?
This is the first Christmas without my mother. She died after a long illness last February.
The table is, of course, a collection of atoms, but for me, it is a collection of tiny moments incarnate as joy over many lifetimes — that must be savored.