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Volume 14, Issue 4: Femina

Table

Nancy Wilson

It's seen some wear and tear. In fact, I don't know what caused all the nicks and scratches, dents and dings. Some are real mysteries, like the puddle of small imprints that have textured the corner. The big gashes are more memorable than the dozens of scrapes, pokes, and pits. These can usually be attributed to some mishap or other, but all the random little blemishes blend into the swirl of meals and memories, shaping the story of our household, told around our table.

When we bought a pine table instead of a fine hardwood, I knew it would gain "character" quickly. But I also knew I wouldn't be tempted to fret over it. You expect a soft wood like pine to chronicle every activity, and besides, it was a fraction of the cost a beautiful mahogany table would be. Its broad yellow surface, cheerful and inviting, stretched out in bright contrast to the dark, shiny wood floors in our new house.
It seemed so huge at the time, wide and hefty, and with the leaf in it, positively gigantic, a vast expanse filling our dining room with promise. The rounded legs, like tree trunks, bore the weight of our hunky new table seemingly effortlessly. We were so impressed and pleased. Now this was a serious table. And because at the time all the living room had to offer in the way of seating was the floor and a lone rocking chair, the dining room table gained even more prominence and dignity. It truly became the center of all.
Isn't it a lovely oddity that we gather around our big piece of wood nearly every evening, about the same time each day, and eat a meal together? Sometimes it is an elegant meal. Sometimes it is very homely. But we are always there together, knife and fork in hand, doing our duty and rejoicing as we go. Oh, the hours of stories and jokes, questions and concerns, (through courtships and pregnancies) prayers and discussions around our aging table.
As the years have gone on, our table has shrunk. I don't know what happened. The living room filled up with furniture. Children married and began having babies. Though it seemed so roomy at first, now I'm wondering how we will all fit. Sometimes we squash five on each side and put two on each end. But just when it seems impossible to fit any more, we manage to slip six chairs on a side. We pull the high chair up to the corner. But soon one table won't be enough.
Disgraceful as it seems to the dignity of our table, we sometimes have to stoop to setting up a flimsy little card table off to the side. But who will sit there? No one wants to. Everyone wants to be at the big table. We've hauled a table up from the family room and arranged it in the living room, and we've put a table in the library. But this divides the festivities into two or three groups and causes longing looks from across the room.
One Easter we decided to make everyone happy, and so we arranged one very long table downstairs. We borrowed folding tables and set them up the whole length of our family room. When the white tablecloths and candles and dishes and flowers and glasses were all arranged, it was quite spectacular. And everyone was pleased to be together, even if the conversation at one end was impossible to hear at the other. The picture of the One Table is deeply imbedded in us.
Since we managed to do it at Easter, we tried it again for a Christmas family gathering that we had on Boxing Day. Instead of putting the folding tables end to end, we stacked them so we had a long eight-foot wide table running the length of our family room. It was glorious. We filled the spacious middle section with fruit and candles and evergreen boughs. We hauled things up and down the stairs for days before and after. But it was worth all the labor to be around one big grand table.
But still, my pine table upstairs is my preference. It is humble now, not nearly so glorious as it once was. My grandchildren color and roll out play-dough cookies on it. Clothes are folded on it. Groceries bags are piled on it. But it still holds candlelight and glistening wine glasses every Sabbath dinner when the whole family squashes around it, welcoming the newcomers to the table. The babies babble (or even holler) and we pass them around; the toddlers sing and recite their memory verses for us. Just yesterday four generations sat down for lunch around our big pine table.
Modern middle-class homes seldom have separate, big dining rooms like the grand old houses of generations past. It's "wasted square footage" or too expensive. Besides, families are small and fragmented now. I remember a Jewish high-school friend who gave me a tour of her not-so-middle-class home. She pushed open some doors to reveal a beautiful room filled with antiques and a long shining table, chairs pushed in all around it. "This is the forbidden room," she told me. "We aren't allowed to go in here." And I could see why. But still, the principle of a glorious dining room appealed to me. So long as it wasn't a forbidden room, but rather a room for the whole family, where all could sit down together, if not every night, at least once a week for a Sabbath feast.
When we celebrate the Lord's Supper each Lord's Day, I often think of the One Table that has been prepared for us, and I eye it by faith. And our yellow pine table, with all its spots and blemishes, faintly pictures that perfect Table, spread with God's Feast for all of us.

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