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Gathering around the old oak table

Julie Carter
Carrizozo, N.M.

The round oak table in my mother’s dining room is as much part of our family history as our family names and all our relatives.

No one knows exactly how old the table is but speculation with the dates we do know puts it in the 80-year-old range.

It was left behind on an abandoned homestead in Colorado, gathering dust in a shed. It had been used for a butcher table proven by the hundreds of saw cuts all around. In 1956, my mother and dad loaded it up in a pickup and brought it home. They spent hours sanding out the saw cuts and making the top smooth, topping it with several coats of varnish.

During the decades that would follow, the table would get “redressed” at least two more times. Even after all that effort, there remains today a few deep cuts where the saw went too deep, leaving on the table top a little history and adding character.

Using money earned from cutting and selling Christmas trees, Mom and Dad spent $11 on raw oak boards. From those Dad made five leaves for the table and giving it “family-size” expansion capability.

Dad had no power tools to work with, so every step of the way was by hand. Each leaf has a number penciled on the back, denoting the order in which it belongs and allowing the pegs to fit properly in the holes.

In an era when a dollar was a huge sum, they turned down a $500 offer for the finished product. The natural quarter-sawn oak table had value to the world but never more than it did to us.

My family has lived around that table. Always extended, with at least two leaves, it can easily seat eight, and with all five leaves, it allows for 20 or more during the holidays.

It was those times as a child I thought life was the very best. Never enough chairs, the piano bench would seat two kids and the flour barrel one more. In a rite of passage of sorts, it was an honor to dine with the adults even if you had to sit on a flour barrel. The “little” kids had to sit at a card table nearby.

I remember the holidays as always noisy, fun and with lots of food lined up on that oak table. I can still hear the singing in the kitchen when my aunts, grandmothers and mom were doing the dishes and putting away the food after the dinner. Nobody could sing very well but nobody cared.

If it could tell you its own story, that oak table would tell you how we have laughed, how we cried, how we celebrated and how we mourned for these near 50 years – all around that round oak table.

It would explain the small dent that was made when my mother pounded the pearl snaps on all the Western shirts she made for my dad. It would tell of the many late nights of family card games, Monopoly, and Parcheesi accompanied by gallons of Kool-aid and bowls of popcorn. It would tell you of the frosting for the hundreds of Christmas cookies and the egg dye for as many Easters.

Looking back, I think the oak table is a lot like life. It has seen many seasons, many events and holidays, many decades of living. It has suffered cuts and bruises, been relocated, rearranged and then refurbished. Its usefulness was never a question.

This holiday season my family will again gather to celebrate. There is now a fourth generation in our family that is learning about life around that old oak table.

Julie can be reached for comment a jcarter@tularosa.net.


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