“Use it up, wear it out, make do.”—New England proverb
I’m sitting as usual enjoying my second cup of coffee as I began thinking about our dining room table. It’s not elegant or trendy. The top is scratched and the legs could use some serious refinishing. Calvin Kitty joins me in the mornings waiting for his taste of my scrambled eggs. He sits politely at the corner looking out at our backyard, chittering as the birds flit among the trees. I’ve never been one of those people who minds a cat sharing her table top has long as he waits until I’ve offered a dish for his tasting.
I ponder all that has happened around our old table. We’ve had it for 28 years. It was meant to be a short term solution when we were a very young family. Mark loves to tell the story of how we acquired it. Lechmere had just opened a store in the mall so we went to purchase a small dining set. We opened an account charging the set to get the 10% discount. As it turned out, Lechmere never charged us for it— though, honest as we were, Mark called them three times to tell them of their mistake. Apparently the Universe gifted us this set as they never followed up.
Raising twins, assorted business start-ups, part-time jobs interspersed with staying home full time to raise our sons meant less cash in the coffers. So our temporary set became a permanent fixture. On periodic moments of flush cash, I would lust after Stickley mission dining tables and chairs. Then circumstances would evaporate our windfalls and I’d polish her up, clean the dried bits of toddler meals and move on.
That table served as the center of our family life. Craft projects for me–sewing Halloween costumes for the boys, piecing needlework designs for my counted thread business, Christmas Cookie Factory boxes station. Homework and dioramas construction for Adam and Alex. Family projects making feathered head dresses for playtime, homemade valentines, Easter egg coloring, pumpkin carving.
The top is scarred from the knives that slipped as we cut into cardboard forts. There are long gashes from our dog Girl when the boys hoisted her on the table to dress her up in a silly costume. Calvin added the latest scratches on the corner when he attempted to scale the table from a misguided leap. I watched him claw his way down in slow motion not worrying about the new addition to her history. There is an upside to having a time-worn table after all.
Countless holiday meals have been served on this table. I transformed her with beautiful table coverings, Mom’s china and Grandma Victoria’s cut glass serving pieces. After each spectacular feast, Mark would lay out the clean pieces in careful order so I could appreciate their gleaming history before stowing them away for the next grand repast.
Over time the original chairs were rickety. Our dear neighbor Kathy was kind enough to give us her unused chairs from a set that coincidentally matched our table perfectly. Much sturdier and comfortable, they have traveled with us to Baltimore.
We almost bought a new set before the move when selling our beloved Syracuse house but convinced ourselves that it would be better to wait until we saw the new house’s dining space. I was quite glad we didn’t because the familiarity of our old life built around this table made the new rental house more amenable.
We thought surely we’d get a new set once we bought our permanent (at least until we retire) house. Nope. Funds were diverted to other projects so we kept the old girl. I was making a donation to our local Salvation Army store and just happened upon a matching China hutch that was perfect! Now it houses Mom’s, Grandma’s and my mother-in-law Estelle’s treasures. How delightful it is for me to be able to use these pieces whenever I choose.
As much as the aesthetic part of me wants a classy, sleek set that is Pottery Barn photo worthy, I think I would mourn the loss of this love-worn furniture. Sitting here I picture toddlers learning to eat with a fork, small hands covered in glitter, paint and pumpkin guts. Our dearly departed dog begging me to rescue her from dress-up. Countless family and friends enjoying comfort food and companionship. Birthday cakes glowing with candles, Christmas and Easter dinners with a revolving cast of characters. Cats of all colors enjoying the table linens and lounging in depleted Easter baskets.
We also talk periodically about sanding and sealing the top and painting the legs. But how could I removed the patina our family built over the past quarter century?
Maybe one day I’ll insist it’s time to part ways. Maybe it will be when we paint the living room and remodel the kitchen. Maybe it won’t be until we move in retirement. Then again, she might just be left to the Boys for their use, or find her way to that same store with her matching hutch for another family to love.