A 25-year-old Piece of Oak

My 1992 living room table sails on the floor of my 1880 dining room. I push the table against the wall and a few days later it has slid down the wave toward the matching china closet. It doesn’t sail symmetrically; one leg is a little closer to the opposite wall. The good leg. The leg across from it on the width twists as if it’s fighting the movement. I lift the tabletop up and pop the leg back into place. Like marbles and pens dropped on the floor, the table is pulled toward the low side of the dining room. After 136 years, I see this and hope our house has finally settled. With any more listing, I envision the original structure detaching from the circa 1970 addition. Bill and I bought the oak table, six chairs, and a china hutch with money we received when we were married nearly 25 years ago. Two chairs are in the garage waiting for a ride to a wood worker to rejuvenate them. Two leaves stand in the basement at the ready to convert the 6-foot long table to a 9-foot long table. The matching china hutch holds many of the goblets also received as wedding gifts. When a fast-paced walk through the dining room makes the crystal clink as if a real toast is underway, I know it’s time to pull the goblets away from the hutch’s mirrored back. They too are within the gravitational pull of the wall opposite the table.

Setting the table when we have company takes more than putting place settings around the circumference of the rectangular slab. Ideally, this is a two-person job: Standing near the wall, Bill and I lift the end of the table, pull it toward the wall then straighten the legs before setting it down. Then we move to the other end of the table, lift it again, and straighten those legs. Finally, I run my hand along the top back of each of the chairs and with my fingernail push in the tiny tacks that poke out. Otherwise, they would scratch or jab our guests.

The tabletop is a source of stress for Bill. It shows its age. The marks from hot bowls and the peeling dry wood reminds me of all the people who have sat at or walked around this table. I think when Bill sees the same imperfections, the table registers as an asset that we haven’t taken care of very well. For his sake, I always keep a tablecloth on it, and if I want to change it for company, I do it quickly and discreetly.

The biggest culprit of that ragged table top is most likely our Curry Open House Nights held when we lived in Rockford, IL, some 16 years ago. With many Brits and cooks in our social circle, we started an annual tradition in the dead of winter. Each February we put the word out: bring an Indian dish to pass and Malcolms will provide Indian Pale Ale (IPA) beer. Indian food only. No exceptions. I had 40 enormous plates that I set out on the fully extended dining room table. The table was filled with mouth-watering Indian dishes from 10 – 20 families. One year I sent out an email asking for everyone to bring serving utensils. As the party grew in size, I knew we would be short on big spoons. One couple, not sure exactly what I was looking for, brought their entire utensil drawer. I think we used ice cream scoops that evening.

Couples, a couple couples, and a few couples have sat down to dinner at this table. Family from Iowa. Family from England. Local family friends. Illinois friends. Massachusetts friends. Friends who traveled great distances to "snack around the Malcolm table." Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Science and social studies projects. Uncountable nights and days that tabletop has gathered people together.

At a Christmas cookie swap in December 2014, only a couple invitees were able to come. Still, it was an evening filled with great conversation and laughter. And as I look at this scene, the people that I “see” outnumber the guests who were there. My friends from Rockford who gave us the cork wreath; my dad who brought back a big round platter for me from California when I was a teen; my grandma whose tablecloth is on the table; my mom who gave me the gold stand; my college roommate whose grandmother gave me the recipe for thumbprint cookies; and my sister-in-law who gave me the sugar cookie recipe. A scene filled with memories.

Its joints are loose, but the solid wood should carry us through another 25 years of memories.