When I was thirteen my parents bought a table at a garage sale. At home we discovered there were four leaves and a fabulous corkscrew mechanism with a leg that dropped down from the center to support them. To us the table was enormous, too big for any of Mom’s tablecloths but we quickly accepted the table into our routine. Years passed. My parents divorced. Dad got the table. He kept it folded up to its smallest size, and used it as a hall table. The last I saw it was covered with car keys, spare change, and the kind of debris that collects in the men’s pockets when there are no women to herd them.
When I came into my own house, I felt a longing for the table. I come from a family that loathes possessions. There will be nearly nothing for me when my parents die; as there was almost nothing for me when my grandparents trickled out of existence. I have a rosary from one great-grandmother, nothing from the other grandparents. My family would tell you that’s how it should be.
But for me, now that I have a nest of my own, I want things – wonderful, unique, quirky things, things with a history, things that tell a story. Moving most Julys for the last 10 years (7 times) means I carried very little with me. While I could buy things to fill my new house, they would all be new, and lack the connection I crave. So, after no small amount of dickering, I convinced my father to sell me the table.
Of course, that left the table in Florida, and my new house in Virginia. A generous family member took it from Dad’s house to the shipping center, only to be told that they couldn’t find a box to fit it. The table made its way to my mother’s house, where it sat for a month while I struggled to find someone to take on the job. Move a whole a house? Sure, you can find people for that. Move a household out of state? No problem. Move a single piece out of state? No.
But finally, the owner of an antique furniture shop agreed to take a look. A few days passed before I got an excited phone call. The table it seems is not just some odd cast off, but a mid- to late- 19th century antique. Fully restored it would be worth a great deal.
I authorized the restoration, but my initial excitement gave way to wariness. Promises of “You won’t even recognize it!” meant the best part of the table might be gone by the time I received it. I was peppered with questions. A dealer in Miami has replacement hardware, should we put it on? What color for a stain?
Each decision seemed to get farther and farther away from what the table was: a place for my family to take meals, play cards, celebrate, laugh, and cry. It was the table featured in Thanksgiving dinners, financial discussions, and the everyday life of a home. I opened my college acceptances letters at that table. I wrote a thousand words on its surface, spreading out my pages to fact check as I went. I feared all that history would be lost.
The table arrived today, and despite the changes I still see all those memories. It seems that our history is carried not in our surface, but in a place that can’t be sanded away, and no matter how we change the people who know us always see it.