Writer Ann Hutton’s New Dining Room Table Evokes Family Memories (The Final Word Opinion Column)

Into the woods: A new dining table evokes family memories

I was driving down Albany Avenue one day when I spied a giant pancake of wood propped against the wall of a second-hand shop. I veered my car into the parking lot. It was drizzling rain, and this big, round table was waiting for me to rescue it. The masking tape price tag was marked $50, an amount that wouldn’t even buy the wood. It was simply beautiful, and I was ready for a change.

I’d been searching for a table to replace the one in my kitchen, a Danish teak rectangle we bought more than 30 years ago. Our young family of seven fit perfectly around it in various combinations of irregular symmetry. And with extensions on each end, we could stretch it to accommodate our gang and all their friends, an easier trick when we lived in a house with an L-shaped bench built into the kitchen.

Over the decades, we moved that table from one house to another across the country. Innumerable meals were served on it. Piles of homework covered its surface. Halloween costumes and prom dresses were cut out and sewn on it. Indelible stains indicate where kids set down a wet cup or dropped a marking pen, and minute specks of paint record the colors of the walls in the different houses we occupied. At retirement my husband and I downsized radically, but the table has continued to dominate the kitchen in our small, dining room-less house for almost 10 winters.

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This beloved teak table is imbued with sentiment. I would never sell it. I have a picture of my months-old grandson lying in a basket on its top while his mother sits at a sewing machine at the other end, constructing wool soakers to cover his cloth diapers. He is now five years old, and we’ve handed the table over to her — a gesture that made sufficient space for the large, round table that called to me as I sped through Kingston that rainy day.

The new table fits perfectly in my kitchen. While leaning over the circle of beechwood to give it a good sanding, I noticed the minor scratches and divots that would soon be filled with a satin finish of polyurethane. I wondered who put them there. Did another family of kids sit around its circumference, eating snacks while they did their homework? Were they a rowdy bunch who snuck bites of dinner to a dog hovering at their feet?

I imagined another mom’s dismay at finding a gouge on this table’s edge after her kids completed a science project — or her pleasure at setting a birthday cake in the center of a joyful gathering, a scene that I know would erase all damaging insults. I can live with these imperfections, too. They are terms of endearment, accepted signs of a well-used piece of furniture. And I expect this new-to-us table will take on even more ciphers of use as we all come together for meals — less frequently, perhaps, but no less fondly.

Meanwhile, the teak table now lives with our daughter and grandson just down the road. She likes to host people casually for Sunday brunch, placing sections of the New York Times at each plate. Her adult siblings show up now and then for camaraderie and a good meal. Our grandson has assumed his place at this table: Tall enough to sit in front of a laptop perched at one end, he browses a Web site of animal pictures while his mommy cooks in the kitchen.

He’s already baptized the teak with spills of milk, and his tentative pencil marks press down on it through thin paper as he learns to print his first words. His mother is not too worried about this unintentional graffiti. Still beloved, but not too precious, the table now fits perfectly in her dining room, where another generation can saturate its wood with the devotion of family.

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