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Leaves

On Thanksgiving Eve, Husband took our dining room table to task for its creaking and shifting. While I quartered fennel and peeled turnips, he presided over the upturned table: drilling, cursing, and leaning into its legs. Several trips and two hardware stores later, not only had he beaten the squeak and reinforced the girders, but he’d also found inspiration to build the leaves missing from our table for fifteen years—fifteen years of dining and relationship wear and tear, service and sacrifice, love and neglect.

My parents’ marriage lasted fifteen years. One of my only memories of my family-of-origin consists of the five of us—my parents, my older brother and sister and me, age 5—gathered around the dinner table as they broke the news of their divorce. We’ve dined at so many holiday tables over the decades, in endless configurations. Once a typical vertical/horizontal family tree, my family genogram has metamorphosed into a spider’s web, due to divorce, re-marriage, death, and all manner of estrangements.

Our first furniture purchase as boyfriend and girlfriend (drummer and actress), the solid maple table cost $150 and came from a Chicago resale shop. The table—clearly built to expand– had a clean split down the middle, but didn’t include any leaves. Regardless, the table felt like a solid investment in our future, and the need to extend the table felt foreign and remote—especially given that my boyfriend’s bandmates considered a 40-ounce beer a “dish to pass.”

Hoisting the table into our one-bedroom love-nest under the El tracks proved a challenge. Before we could even introduce ourselves, our neighbor found himself wedged in our door, heaving under the table’s unwieldy girth. I don’t think I ever learned his name. Probably because we never heard from him again.

Two years later, Husband and his 6 foot 7 inch little brother moved the table into our newly-purchased vintage condo. Engaged and in career limbo, I’d grown weary of the unemployed actor hustle, and Husband had enough of hauling his drum set through subzero Chicago winters. We prioritized losing ourselves in coupledom over the unappealing task of finding ourselves as individuals. Husband stained the unfinished table a deep mahogany to match the dark floors and resplendent 1920s woodwork. The hard maple didn’t absorb the stain easily, but he persisted, transforming raw potential into something more polished and refined.

Soon after, Husband applied for graduate school in industrial design. In meeting with the admissions adviser, he described a case he fashioned for his electronic drum accessories out of an old suitcase and foam core. He regaled his trials with the 1959 BMW motorcycle he was restoring, and mentioned the dining table he refinished that would soon have a high chair next to it. His DIY habit—including our table—got him into the master’s program and launched him on a fulfilling career path capitalizing on his creative ingenuity.

Three years later in 2006, we moved to my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin—back to my loving minefield of a family–with our two-year-old son, and expecting his brother. Hired movers dismantled the table, traversed it across state lines, and reassembled it in our new house. The table no longer felt secure; it whined and shifted whenever someone scooted their chair. Husband traveled constantly for work and traveled constantly when home, triaging needs of the diaper, laundry, and exhausted wife variety. Our once-solid partnership groaned and swayed alongside the table, articulating one more demand on our non-existent time. The split in our table now served as a mocking reminder of the long list of unmet personal, household, and relationship needs—unmade beds, unmade plans, unmade leaves.

This Thanksgiving, fifteen years after our second-hand store coup, the table became whole at last: pegs meeting holes, boards flush to boards– bridging the split sides of the original wood and extending its reach to new lengths. Our boys (now Six and Eight), Husband’s family, and my step-mother–newly and suddenly estranged from my father—gathered around it. Our table didn’t moan or lean when people got up for yet more mashed potatoes, and the boys and their cousins conversed with minimal potty-talk.

Within a three-mile radius of our home, my side of the family alone required three separate holiday dinners. My family-of-origin genogram has shape-shifted again, adding not leaves, but entirely new tables in entirely different homes—my 70-year-old father now sits at the head of a family dinner table among people I hardly know.

Perhaps at this very moment a young couple in a thrift shop counts their bar-tending tips, considering an investment in a split-open and leafless dining table in the mid-century modern section. Maybe that table once belonged to my parents. Quite possibly, the couple will sit on mismatched chairs and rest their feet on it while sharing a 40-ounce beer. Maybe the young couple will even make it whole again—if only for the brief moment of a far-away holiday dinner.

table

39 comments… add one

  • Pearl January 17, 2013, 7:06 am

    That was delightful.

    Pearl

  • Frogs in my formula January 17, 2013, 7:17 am

    I am so happy I stumbled upon this post. It was touching and perfect. I have a bit of a similar story in that my husband and I moved into my childhood home but, like your table, the house was marred by my parents’ divorce. I joke with my husband that when we moved in with our “intact” family the house became whole again, in all those cliched Lifetime movie ways. The holidays are strange here but thanks to my sons I spend a lot more time looking forward than behind.

  • Shannon January 17, 2013, 9:21 am

    I loved this. I love that you repaired and refinished the old table, making it whole, instead of trading it in for a new, unmarred version. I have my grandparents’ drop-leaf table in my attic waiting to be refinished. My mother did her homework at that table and it served as the kiddie table at family gatherings when I was a child. I think I just found the motivation in your words to get it done.

  • Sherry Carr-Smith (@prcarrs) January 17, 2013, 10:18 am

    If furniture could talk…

  • Liz @ PeaceLoveGuac January 17, 2013, 10:36 am

    Oh Ann, this is lovely. It’s amazing what devotion and elbow grease can build…in a marriage.

  • One Crafty Mother January 17, 2013, 10:49 am

    This is gorgeous, Ann. I have goosebumps. LOVE.

    -Ellie

  • tracy@sellabitmum January 17, 2013, 11:05 am

    I love what you’ve built together. Love this. Love you. xo

  • Robin January 17, 2013, 11:08 am

    Wow. As always. Wow.

  • Julia Hunter January 17, 2013, 11:22 am

    Such a beautiful story : )

  • Schmutzie January 17, 2013, 11:23 am

    I love the stories and life old furniture carries.

  • Anna See January 17, 2013, 12:49 pm

    So touching and stunning and beautiful. Thank you!

  • Suzy January 17, 2013, 12:56 pm

    I think these comments address your previous issues, n’est-ce pas? You know I loved it. So I’ll say it publicly.

  • Lady Jennie January 17, 2013, 1:00 pm

    I am very weepy today. I loved this. Not that it made me weep or anything (sniff).

    So beautiful, Ann, and I’m so very glad your table (and “table”) are solid.

  • bethanygp January 17, 2013, 1:54 pm

    You tell stories with amazing ability. This is beautiful.

  • Nancy Davis Kho January 17, 2013, 2:45 pm

    Beautifully done, Anne. If our furniture could talk…

  • Anonymous January 17, 2013, 2:52 pm

    Wonderful. Molly

  • Anna January 17, 2013, 3:13 pm

    We still sit around the same kitchen table of my youth, and my kids still discuss which crayon scrawlings across the base are theirs, and which belong to their uncle and me.

  • Shanan January 17, 2013, 3:48 pm

    This was really beautiful. My husband and I will be married 14 years in April. My parents marriage lasted all of six. I truly understand this post and the love of a thrift store table.

  • Becky January 17, 2013, 4:18 pm

    Loved this. I hope the end tables I just bought via Craigslist have this same romantic history. Although I have a feeling they were just old Target someone else’s trash my new treasure.

  • Lisa Page Rosenberg January 17, 2013, 7:32 pm

    Really lovely, Ann. xoxo

  • Logical Libby January 17, 2013, 7:35 pm

    A truly lovely post.

  • Marlena January 17, 2013, 9:35 pm

    Beautiful.

  • Roshni AaMom January 17, 2013, 11:44 pm

    That was beautiful, Ann!

  • Laurie January 18, 2013, 1:00 am

    It’s a wonder we can carry all of our stories sometimes. I really like this one.

  • Leigh Ann January 18, 2013, 8:32 am

    What a fantastic metaphor. I wasn’t expecting to cry this morning but…

  • Amy Windsor January 18, 2013, 9:29 am

    This is one of my favorite posts ever, Ann. Really beautiful and, if I’m being honest, a little ominous. I knew you were talking about the leaves in the tables, but couldn’t help but feel like it might switch to leaves, as in TO GO, at any moment. Phew! I’m so glad you guys are making it past the 15 year mark… It’s a tough one for everyone, I think. It has been for me, anyway.

  • Heather EO January 18, 2013, 9:42 am

    Ann, thank you. I’m so glad you’ve shared this here.

    xoxo

  • Sari Judge January 18, 2013, 9:44 am

    Lovely, Ann. Our Craigslist dining room table has no leaves either, and we are planning to replace it soon. I think I will give it to a young (and handy, something we are not) couple and tell them to consider rebuilding the extensions–families grow. And rarely in the way one expects.

  • Shoshana Martyniak January 18, 2013, 9:51 am

    I just made the kind of crying noise with my throat and possibly my nose that made me thankful to be reading this alone. You’ve also turned that table into a thing of beauty.

  • HisFireFly January 18, 2013, 10:01 am

    building love, building life,
    yes, this.

  • Elaine A. January 18, 2013, 11:01 am

    I like this piece for its periscope into you and your life and relationships but also because I have SO many memories attached to furniture myself. I simply love furniture. And now I wonder how much jumping and sitting and cuddling has happened on the IKEA sofa I recently sold to another family with little kids not too long ago… :)

  • Nichole January 18, 2013, 11:14 am

    Ann… lovely and melancholy and … well … perfect.

  • Jen January 18, 2013, 11:21 am

    So much about this is so much. SO. MUCH. EVERYTHINGNESS. See, you’ve stolen all of the articulate in the universe today. I can’t say anything more.

  • dusty earth mother January 18, 2013, 11:39 am

    Um… wow. That is a gorgeous story. Incredibly delicious in imagery and heart. Beautiful, Ann.

  • Galit Breen January 18, 2013, 2:44 pm

    Wow, Ann.

    {I can’t quite find the words to comment, but I want you to know how much I love this. How much you’ve built. How things can change. How split doesn’t necessary mean broken.}

    I think I’ll just stick with wow.

  • Joanna Jenkins January 21, 2013, 11:12 pm

    It’s interesting the furniture we carry with us through life. I’m glad you have your table and I’m happy for you that you finally have the leaves to go with it.

    This is a wonderfully told store, Ann. Thank you.

    Happy New Year, xo jj

  • Anonymous January 23, 2013, 5:30 pm

    I hardly create responses, but i did some searching and wound up here “Leaves”.
    And I do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind.
    Is it only me or does it appear like a few of the responses look as if
    they are coming from brain dead people? :-P
    And, if you are writing on other online social sites, I’d like to follow anything fresh you have to post. Would you list of all of your public pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?
    Also see my page: boligityrkia.net

  • Maria January 27, 2013, 2:58 pm

    Isn’t life funny? I started out wanting to be a surgeon until I realized the fainting at the sight of my own blood, let alone other’s blood was not a good sign. My partner played in an all girl rock band all through college and they were sure they’d be the next Go Gos. Now, we are happily nested in an 1812 Victorian with an eighth grader. I counsel, she teaches. The one piece of furniture that has followed us everywhere was a lone small kitchen table that we found in someone’s trash. It still sits in our kitchen nook, used by my daughter for homework. Her name is written under it in her 1st grade scrawl.

  • Kate Coveny Hood February 5, 2013, 9:07 am

    It’s amazing what I find when I actually open my Google reader… New resolution: to do that more often in 2013 so I don’t miss anything as beautifully poignant as this.

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