What could I possibly say about tables? It took my brain two days to warm up to the topic. Then I began to realize that I have known all kinds of tables throughout my life.
There was Grandpa’s table. My earliest memory of it came when I was very small, so small I was carried into the house in my mother’s arms. After Grandpa’s trademark, “Hi-ya,” my mom would deposit me on the kitchen table. Mom would hardly have me out of my coat, before Great-gram bellowed out, “Carol, how many times have I told you, tables are made for glasses not for. . .” After my mother would swoop me down to the floor, Great-gram would still always offer my brother and me a warm cookie from one of the tins she kept by the stove.
Through the years, delicious meals graced that table: fresh caught trout, freshly shot venison, rabbit, squirrel or the prize turkey Grandpa won the day before at the shooting range. My grandfather quietly delighted in his marksmanship. He went to, and won, all the area shoots, and then unobtrusively gave the fresh turkeys to families he knew were in need. There was welcome, peace, acceptance and plenty of food at Grandpa’s table. There, I was loved unconditionally. There, I could fulfill any expectations placed on me.
When I was six or seven and had no front teeth, it was okay not to have to eat a large portion of broccoli, and instead, I was given extra corn to fill me up. I can still see grandpa sitting on his white stool cutting my corn off the cob so I could enjoy it despite my toothless condition. He was the expert. I would watch as he made the corn even better with butter dripping down the cob and just the right amount of salt.
At Grandpa’s house we enjoyed being squished around the table in the kitchen. The warmth of the stove and smells of cooking, mingled with the laughter and conversation, while the breeze from the open window offered cool relief.
I remember another table from that time of my life. The table at Grandma Sarah’s house sat in her perfectly appointed dining room where one could look but must never touch. The dishes and silver on the table looked like they were from the set of “Downton Abbey.” The air was always stuffy, because if a window were to open, “dirty air might blow in.”
There were no allowances made for children with missing teeth. We all knew it was a house where children were to be seen and not heard. I never wanted to go. Though the food was excellently prepared and servings were expertly portioned, dinners always came with a good deal of upset stomach. At this table I was barely tolerated, often scolded and could never live up to the expectations placed on me.
I was in sixth grade the night of the most memorable and extraordinary blessing I ever heard given at a kitchen table.
For three days, my mom and all four of us children had only one plain pancake at breakfast lunch and dinner. Dad had been assigned another load to pick up with his truck and wouldn’t be back for another week. That meant no paycheck till then. That day, Mom had us wash the shelves in the fridge and the pantry. We knew there was no food in the house, not even any crumbs on the shelves.
Dinner came and we all sat at the table. My mother began to say grace. It seemed a very long prayer as we all looked at each other. Every one thinking Mom had finally flipped. But she kept her head bowed and continued to thank God for his blessing and for our dinner.
While she was still praying, there was a knock at the door. People from our church were on the porch with bags and boxes of food. It just kept coming. There had never before been so much nutritious and good food in our house at one time. The table was heaped high. There was even a hot meal for us to enjoy right away.
As I wrote this, I wondered for the first time if my mother knew they were coming. I asked her last week, and not only did she not know they were coming to this day she doesn’t know how they found out. I always thought a few people had gone shopping, but my mom said they took up a collection. One family who had only a little more than we did put small portions of salt, pepper, sugar and cereal into baggies and shared with us.
And that brings me to my next table. That night so profoundly affected me that ever since I have kept an eye out for those in need. It was easier when we were in a small church where everybody knew everybody else and we were often in each others homes.
Both Betty’s table and her home were a haven for me while I was pregnant with my twins. I’d often show up at her door, where she would assign my three-year-old and eighteen- month-old to the care of her pre-teen boys. Then she set about mothering me. But I knew what was or wasn’t in this resourceful woman’s pantry, and I would bless her back out of the bounty we had at that time. I swear to you I didn’t do it for the chicken and dumpling meals she would make for us on those evenings we stopped by with food. The woman was a marvel and could cook anything from scratch if you just gave her the basic ingredients.
At her table I had my introduction to how frugal some families have to be. One night I turned my nose up and pushed a cartilage joint aside on my plate and asked for more. Her kids were aghast! Betty told them it was okay since I had bought the chicken I could have more without eating that piece. Her youngest son stayed at my elbow and softly said, “That’s my favorite piece she is throwing away.” I offered it to him, and he ran off bragging to his brothers about his marvelous morsel.
I would never have known Betty’s table if it had not been for Mary’s table. In 1978, we moved to a new home and needed to find a local church home. We visited a few and knew immediately they were not open to having an interracial couple join them. We accidentally found Immanuel Baptist. It was already ten fifty in the morning, we decided since we were there to go in. And there, we met Mary.
Mary never walked anywhere, she swooped or barged. She strode up to us as soon as the service was over and invited us to dinner. We accepted, even knowing we were to stop to pick up fast food on the way to her place. The next week, we returned and Mary said she listened to God last week and he was telling her to invite us over again.
We heard the Master calling come and dine not only at Mary’s table but at Immanuel Baptist. We were welcomed included and blessed. And for many years Mary would swoop into my life every time God told her I needed her that day.
I would gladly put my feet under Mary’s table any day.
Then there’s the table I know best. I wish it could talk and tell me all the stories it knows from its 120-year-old history. But it sits silently in my kitchen bereft of most of its original chairs, now scattered through my home waiting to be glued back together.
When I met the table, it led a serene life sitting a in room of pure green, a green without any leanings toward yellow or blue. Clean white trim set off the rich deep jewel tone. The open windows let fresh country air blow over and around it. I now wonder does it miss those days when it resided in the home of the man I affectionately called “Great Vern,” after he married my grandmother. (Note: It is a weird thing for a high school student to attend her grandmother’s wedding.)
Grandma Sarah wanted her own trappings around her, so the table and all his friends lost their happy home. The table fared better than the rest of the set which had their legs cut off so they could fit into the damp basement to act as storage for years to come.
So, at age 15, I inherited this 45” wide by 62-92” long table, that I loaned to our youth pastor and his wife who had bought a huge house but had no furniture. There is sat for ten years, hosting church board meetings, Sunday evening sing-a-longs and the care and feeding of a youth group.
In 1977, the table came with me to Illinois. It was again in a large room with cool green colors. My husband was given to hospitality and filled all twelve spaces around the table with guests. This was a good thing for me, who had always cooked for seven to twelve people and had no idea how to cook for just two. We ate more leftovers than meals.
Sitting in a new colorful location (think bright orange walls), the table welcomed our first born son. It soon took on the role of staging area as we tried to gather together everything necessary for taking a newborn out into the frigid Chicago winter.
The table made a move that summer, along with the little boy who loved it. The boy spent most of his days crawling under the table and all around its legs. The boy walked early, and was so short he could easily stand under the table—running there for protection from little boy fantasies or hiding from mommy with that twinkle in his eyes that said, “Find me.” Some days the boy would bring his car keys, sit between the tables legs and ask what I wanted from the store or plan his great get-a-ways as he drove off in his imagination.
One day the inevitable happened. The boy ran for the protection of his beloved table, and the table bowed down and struck him on the head. Dazed and confused the boy cried about the table’s betrayal. It would take several months before the boy understood and forgave the table. Eventually as the boy accepted that he was indeed growing taller and the table meant him no harm, he came back with sheets and blankets with which to envelope his beloved table, making the space beneath it magical once again.
The table would host three more babies, and take on more personality with each one. The last one would be so immobile that she could safely sit on him for a year.
He (the table) remembered the first little boy’s fourth birthday party. Despite all the festive decorations, cake, presents and the beautiful new baby girl who now sat on him, everyone had tears tumbling down their faces. All tried to smile and be happy for the little boy that he loved but sobs came every time any one looked at the picture in the frame with the party hat perched on it. The girl in the picture looked just like the beautiful baby sitting on him now. He was confused, why were they all sad as if she was dying?
Time went on and the four children all close in age played under him, spilled their milk all over him, and if mom could only get down on her hands and knees she might finally wipe off the last dried drops of milk!
The table also witnessed the children who broke into the house and set the fires. He remembers the searing, stifling heat of the house fire. He remembers the blanched face of the fire chief when he realized the house could have back flashed at any second with his men inside it.
The table still bears the scars of that day. The fire over dried his glue and his veneer has been chipping off ever since, making him look old and uncared for. But while he is old, he has been loved much like the Velveteen Rabbit he heard about years ago.
He remembers birthdays, Christmases, New Years, Easters, Thanksgivings, graduations and even apple harvests. He has survived both home schooling and public school projects. He has stood solid and firm, never happier than when he sheltered many feet beneath his top and heard stories of other people. He learned about ships called the Logos and the Doulos from people who lived on them. He learned about our political system from a presidential hopeful who had no campaign budget. He was overjoyed when he found out that those who shared his hospitality were able to lay aside their prejudices and see through eyes of understanding.
There have been other tables in my life—the missions training center had our group dining table and library tables. Study tables abounded in other libraries and small group studies. Cafeteria tables hold memories of conversations with good friends.
There are smaller antique tables that remind me of ancestors long gone, but my ancient dining table that has so long resided in my kitchen is still my favorite. He has witnessed my life over the years. He has hosted friends and celebrations, been the center of planning events and planning for the future and more is still to come. He is my favorite table and I am grateful for all the wonderful memories he has stored for me.