“But how does it make you feel?” It’s out before I realize what I’ve said.
He pauses. “How does it make me feel?”
It’s not that he hasn’t heard me or doesn’t understand my words. We’ve already talked about the need. The money. The style. He just can’t understand why I’m making the process of buying a new table emotional.
“Yes.” I’m owning it. “How do you feel about this table?” Not a table. Not any table. But this table. How do you feel about this table?
He shakes his head. “I like the table.” Concrete. He does not, will not, connect feelings to tables.
Before this interaction, I hadn’t realized: I do.
I cut my teeth and started eating mashed peas in a metal and plastic highchair pulled up to a dark brown, oval laminate table in a small wood paneled kitchen in a college town in western Ohio. The table had a seam down the center which my parents would pull apart from opposite ends to make room for a leaf or two, should company come over. It’s tapered metal legs ended in flat silver feet.
Tucked into a photo album, there is a picture of me in a red velour jumpsuit sitting in my dad’s lap, all thick framed glasses, lamb chops, and winning smile. He has a baby spoon in one hand, an elbow resting on the table. I have clear memories of sitting in the same spot when I was older. It’s where my parents told me to look out the window at the neighbor’s oak tree—to distract me from gagging on my lima beans.
In my teen years, my parents bought a honey-colored wood table with one or two leaves that almost always stayed in. It had enough chairs for our family of five and whoever ended up dropping by or being invited to join us for a meal. It was a table ever-welcoming of family and friends.
I ate thousands of bowls of cereal at that table. Sat through unknown numbers of praying-for-everything (including-world-peace) length prayers there. Got in trouble there. Blew out candles there.
It was at this table my dad and my uncle would cry-laugh through the exact same story every single December: about going shopping at a discount department store at midnight on Christmas Eve decades ago. They walked past two men a few aisles over. One man held up some cheap lingerie and said, “Do you think this will fit her?” The other man replied, “I don’t know, she’s your wife” and the first man replied, “yeah, but she’s your sister.”
Around 3 p.m. most days, my mom drank a cup of coffee and ate a little snack at this table. It was a place she’d sit at late into the night and talk with my aunts, cousins, her friends—sometimes even my friends—long after I lost interest and went to bed.
My brother, sister, and I have been out of the house for more than 10 years. There is another table now. It’s Amish built, solid as a rock, and can seat 12 comfortably. Most days, it serves as a lovely place for two people to eat in peace.
But once a week, the grandchildren who aren’t in school yet come over and eat goldfish and hummus, frost cookies in booster seats—learning, just like the rest of us did, that this is a table where you are loved and can always come back to.
When I come to town with my kids, the table is extended to its maximum size and my dad makes a quintuple batch of crepes before sitting down to drink a few cups of strong coffee with splashes of cream. When he brings the mug to his mouth, he overlooks a table full of two generations of his making.
My husband and I have a 17-year-old solid oak mission style table—the first piece of real furniture we ever purchased. It came with two 10-inch leaves and four chairs. A good friend insisted we buy two more, because our family was sure to grow. (But it was just the two of us back then, we only had so much money, and what did she know anyway?)
It’s the table where he studied for his thesis and told me his headaches wouldn’t go away. It’s the table we cried at after his brain surgery, when he couldn't keep up with our conversation and I wondered if he’d, we’d ever be the same.
It’s the table we broke apart at. Where we sat next to each other, but were so distant and disconnected, it felt like if we pulled just a little further in opposite directions, the table’s seam would open up and one of us was sure to lose balance and fall in forever.
It’s also the place we came back together. Where shared meals became more than just a shared life. Where grace intervened. Where open hearts prompted us to put in both 10-inch leaves permanently, making plenty of room. For hope. For our future.
I have a picture of Chris, exhausted, eating cheerios at this table while cradling our sleeping first born six pound baby girl in his right arm. Our three biological children learned to hold their spoons, crayons, and sippy cups here.
It’s the table to which we brought home Viv, our three-year-old daughter who became a part of our family through adoption six months ago. It’s where she learned that pizza is indeed good, and that this—this table, this home, this family—is where she belongs.
It’s the table my children will remember when they think about their early childhood—when I think about their childhood. It’s the table I make all of my kids look out the window to the birch tree in our backyard—to distract them from gagging on their squash.
I can’t tell you how many meals we’ve eaten, how many prayers we’ve said, or how many people we have tried to squeeze around these four sides through the years.
But I can tell you I thought the style was charming—until cleaning multiple glasses of spilled milk off 20 slats of wood became an annoying part of our daily routine. I can tell you the “6, 7, 8, 9” etched into the top is from Nadia stenciling numbers onto a thin sheet of paper using a heavy hand and a fine gauged pen. I can tell you it’s been refinished once and I’ve reupholstered the seats three times, and that I sit in the one that isn’t secured onto the chair frame (because too many screws fell with a ting onto the floor, fed up and refusing to stay put after so much time and so many changes). I can tell you we use two folding chairs at every meal, and a piano bench when company comes over, because, you know what? Our friend was right: our family did grow.
Deciding on a new table isn’t even the issue, I guess.
It’s that when you buy one or two (maybe three?) tables in your life and this next one will be the second—it’s a significant milestone. And a reminder that seasons change and time is passing and the babies I first brought here aren’t babies anymore. Around the table now, I’m less concerned about what they put into their mouths and more focused on what’s entering their minds and coming out of their hearts.
I’ll miss our first table.
But it’s not the table that nourishes our children or holds the memories.