Friday, August 23, 2013

Heirloom Table

My kitchen table is full of scratches. I'm not talking accidental fork holes or occasional errant knife marks. I mean like the previous owner used this table for crafting, and didn't bother using a cutting mat when using her Exacto knife.

Most of the time it doesn't bother me. In fact, with a house full of teen agers, it helps me relax, that they can't really damage it more than it already is. On special occasions I can throw a table cloth over it. But most days it sits bare, its deep flaws exposed for the world to see.

For most of our 23 years of marriage we've had second hand tables. Except for a very special seven year period, when I had a magnificent table.

Back in 2003 we had just moved from Washington D.C. to Utah when I got the call that my grandmother had died. She and I had been close, until age and a hard life had left her to ride out her later years in a nursing home, unaware of those around her for the most part. We packed up our van full of little ones and drove down to Texas for the funeral.

Unexpectedly we discovered we had received an inheritance. A nice little chunk of change that was significant to our bare bones budget. We thought long and hard about what my grandmother would want us to do with the money she left us. And a kitchen table made the list. My grandmother loved good furniture, and she adored my children. Knowing they'd sit around a beautiful table for each meal would have definitely pleased her.

I'd always dreamed of having a big wooden table that was surrounded by sturdy chairs. I loved the idea of feeding my children around it every day, then some day sitting across from their boyfriends and girlfriends...then their fianc├ęs...then their new spouses...then someday, in the very distant future, pulling a high chair up to that same table to feed the grandbabies they'd bring home to me. I dreamed of a heritage table.

No other piece of furniture in the house spoke to me like a good, solid kitchen table. The place where every day meals were consumed. The place where homework was spread out, and board games were won and lost. Dressed up with candles and tablecloths for holidays, and filled with pumpkin scraps, birthday cake sprinkles, and gingerbread house crumbs as the seasons changed.

When we realized that our house full of hand me down and thrift store furniture would be blessed with a new (real!) kitchen table we spent months hunting down just the right set. We shopped at just about every furniture store in the Salt Lake City valley, and even considered making our own if we could find a big old barn door that we could cut down. But finally we found what we were looking for.  It was big and sturdy... fancy yet hardy. Ironically it appeared to us on the showroom floor of the furniture store owned by the family we'd bought our Utah house from. That meant we got a pretty great deal on it too, and decided to buy the eight chairs, instead of six, so there would be extra seating for those future honored guests.

The Utah house had the perfect spot for our new table. The large room attached to the open kitchen was just screaming for a big family table. It arrived just in time for my sister's visit from Texas that December, and we gathered around it with her husband and three girls, to greet the new year together, building gingerbread houses and playing board games.

Just as I'd planned and dreamed about.

We used that table every single day of our three years in Utah. Many more holidays were celebrated there, many hundreds of homework assignments were completed there. Science fair projects were constructed and Monopoly tournaments were battled out into the wee hours of the morning. A good chunk of our memories in Utah, the ones created inside the house, happened around that table.

And the scenes were repeated when we packed it up and moved to New York. After intense renovations of the old farm house we purchased, we created another big dining room, just off the kitchen, where our big wooden table fit perfectly. More holidays rolled by, more family memories were made. Every once in a while it would get a small ding or an errant stray mark by a permanent marker, and instead of being upset, I'd smile. Because I knew that in the years to come we'd see those marks and tell the stories about how they got there. It was all part of the family history making that first put a yearning in my heart for a good, hearty family table.

After five wonderful years in New York, we found out our next move was taking us to Colorado. There was no doubt that table would come with us. It was practically a part of our family.

But this move didn't go as smoothly as the ones in years past. We did everything right - fixed up the house perfectly,  put half our belongings into storage to make the house look bigger and cleaner, got a good appraisal before putting it on the market - but the market seemed to tank the exact day the For Sale sign was pushed into the front yard.
Month after month we dropped the price, seeing all of our tens of thousands of dollars of equity dropping away with it. We went past our 'give away' price after four months. 

Four months after that we were starting to get desperate. 

All the money we'd accumulated for decades, in every move, that was rolled over to the next house, was slowly disappearing. In the end it got ugly. 

We were weeks away from having to just walk away from it and let it go to foreclosure. A heart breaking decision, as we'd spent five years fixing just about everything in that house, down to replacing every single appliance. It was in pristine condition. It just didn't have any buyers.

Then we got one offer. Even though the price they offered was twenty thousand below what we'd paid for it, before we put tens of thousands into it, and spent all of our free time providing sweat equity to fix it up, we had to consider their offer. It would mean someone would move in and enjoy our house. It meant it would not sit vacant and deteriorate as it went through the foreclosure procedures. It meant we could live with the fact we hadn't just walked away from this house we created and loved. We could know it was being loved again.

Then, as if it couldn't hurt any more, the day the moving guys were putting our belongings into the moving truck, the call came. The new buyers were considering dropping their offer. One of the conditions to following through with their offer was that they wanted a few pieces of our furniture. And since most of our furniture was old  and worn out, of course the piece they were talking about was my kitchen table. My heirloom table.

I stood in that long driveway, watching work men haul boxes into the moving truck, and willed myself not to cry. With the realtor in my ear, asking if we were willing to honor the buyer's request, I took a deep breath.

It was truly down to deciding whether I got to keep the table that was near and dear to my heart, and let our house go to foreclosure, or let it all go to the new buyers and walk away.  There was really only one choice to make.

The moving men dug out the three dining chairs that they'd already packed deep in the bowels of the moving truck and placed them back in our old dining room, right next to my beautiful wood table. And they all stayed behind when that truck drove away.

Once we found a rental house in Colorado (all the down payment money to buy a house was lost with that house sale) we hunted around in the thrift stores and got another kitchen table. It's sturdy and it came with six sturdy chairs. It's not my first pick, but the price was right and sometimes in life you just have to move on.

For a short time I let myself grieve for that table. I was fully aware that, with the huge financial hit we took on that New York house, the budget for a new heirloom table would be nonexistent for years to come. I was also very aware that, at this point, with two of our 'kids' now being young adults, the window of time for creating kid memories around that table had just about closed for half of my children. It was time to mentally move on.

My Colorado thrift store table works just fine. 

We've had some memorable meals around it already. We've hosted friends, old and new, around it. I fed my oldest son a few last meals before he headed off to his grown up life in the military, and I'll feed him around it once again, when he visits us during the holidays. The table itself, as scratched as it is, is not the reason I smile when I'm looking at his face while we share meals there. The meals don't necessarily taste better or worse because of the quality of table they are served off of. The people who surround the table are what matter to me.

It is probably a blessing that my chickens started their flights from my nest after I lost my precious table. It has helped me to realize what's important, truly important. A house full of beautiful things, leather couches and heirloom tables, is not what makes a home happy.

People I love walking through the door, and throwing their things across whatever table happens to sit in the dining room, is what makes me happy. 

Seeing those faces I love and miss so deeply, and watching those bodies sink into my sturdy thrift store chairs as they begin to open up to me about their latest adventures is what really matters.

There is a part of my heart that will always long for that table I left behind in New York. We had built, so steadily through the years, the memories that were leading us to my dream of an heirloom table. But life happens. And sometimes it's necessary to say goodbye to things you loved. It's all a part of the journey. 

And I'm pretty sure my grandmother would understand.

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