Friday, December 9, 2011

the walnut table

Now of course I never met her--she was before my time--although I have seen pictures. She was a stolid, solid woman of uncertain age that you did not mess with.  I knew her house quite well. It was a modest two story wood frame house painted yellow. You have been there and can imagine what it looked like.  Downstairs was the obligatory parlor separated by a sliding wooden door, living room and large country kitchen. That is where the walnut table with the many leaves reigned supreme. Upstairs were where the bedrooms were supposed to be.

That changed though after first her infant son and then her quiet kind husband died suddenly leaving her with two young daughters to raise and of course the house. Her options were not great back then--move in with relatives and become a second class citizen, remarry to an uncertain future. The poor house--yes there really was such a place just outside town--was not even considered.She would not give up her children.

She chose to take in boarders.  Moved her two daughters down into the parlor and rented the upstairs to single men working in town hunting for a clean room, solid hearty food two or three times a day on that same walnut table. For extra money she did their wash and ironing--spread newspapers on the table and heated those big flat irons on her cook stove. That much I know for sure--the table bears the imprint of the newspapers.

Somehow she scraped together enough money to buy a piano for the living room--maybe it was there already. Give her daughters piano lessons--that was what young ladies did in those days. Her daughters were to study not help with the boarders.  They were going to be prepared for life. After graduating from high school, the older--my Aunt Jo--went to nursing school--became the first public health nurse in the county. Although she never married, she did know love--but that is another story (and a good one, I might add.) She lived in that yellow house until she died. Sleeping in that same parlor that became a bedroom. Eating at the same table covered in oil cloth.  Doting on her nephew--my Dad. You see this is a very personal story.

I have written about the younger one before. You can read about her quilts HERE. She was my grandmother. The one who made quilts. She was sent to the Teacher's College. Oh how she hated boarding out with the farm families in the south part of the County. She quickly married a handsome young farmer who said little and came to resent his silence. But she had my father and her quilts. Her degree--the training served her well when she had to go to work in the local school system to save the farm during the Depression.

And I always knew that this walnut table would be mine some day. But first after Aunt Jo died, it was in my parents' kitchen. They replaced the oak table that was almost a carbon copy with the walnut table full of memories. Always covered in oil cloth. Then when they died, it was shipped to my home in Massachusetts where it was of course covered with more oil cloth and placed on the porch for our summer meals. How glad I was to have it.

Then after I lost my studio and got settled in my new space I realized I needed furniture. I thought of the walnut table just sitting there unused for half the year. Sure it was a bit beaten with age. One leg is cracked. There are a few dings and scars. I had forgotten the memories of this table, the stories that are a part of the fabric of my life. But don't I need it right now? We can find another table for our porch for a while.

It was heavier than I remember.  I rubbed furniture polish on its smooth surface. No oil cloth this time. Did my great grandfather the carpenter make it? I don't think so. My sister has the baby cradle that he made. The table looks to be of a standard design. I have looked for his initials but I don't think that matters anyway.  There it sits in my new space. Proudly showing the newspaper print which some day I must try to read. Proudly sharing its stories. Reassuring me that I come from a long line of survivors--don't we all? That we all have stories that help make us who we are, don't you think?

And you--what stories do you have to tell? How do you tell them? And if you are in Shelburne Falls, I do hope you will come into my new studio and see the table. It does look pretty good there doesn't it?

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