For all of my childhood, I remember a small nondescript table placed along side a wall in the kitchen at Pa's. No one would notice it unless one needed to use it. It wasn't much to look at, but being a necessary part of our lives, got a fresh coat of white paint every spring, without the previous year's coat being removed. Thus one could not tell what shape or form the legs of it had ever had, if any. The operative word was not "beauty", but "clean", and this was assured with the annual coat of paint and the linoleum tacked to the top that it might be scrubbed with a vengeance. It was the "wash up" table. Not having indoor plumbing, the table was where bowl and pitcher were kept for the "washing up" before cooking or meal-taking. It was not a fancy china bowl and pitcher either, as once again function reigned over beauty, but a simple tin set that served the purpose. I do not remember that they matched.
When the time of Pa's sale came, his children removed this or that they thought should go to auction, and this or that they wished for purposes of nostalgia to keep. And my father asked my mama what she would like. As an in-law she had the last pick and not that much left. Looking about, she thought of the days she had spent in that kitchen, sweating over an old iron stove, cooking meals for family or farm hands. She thought about all the springs when she and the "girls" came in to attack the old house with scrub rags and buckets. She remembered stuffing feather pillows anew and dashing paint on any surface that looked as though it might need it. She wound up choosing the small nondescript table.
Months later, after a good deal of time had been spent with paint remover, steel wool and sandpaper, the table was no longer recognizable as the same one we were all so familiar with, and the family gasped that it was the same. The tall legs of the table had assumed a shapely form, with spindles and graceful knobs. Paint peeled and sanded away had revealed a warm and glowing cherry wood. And the drawer, stuck for years, now opened to reveal that the beautiful little table was put together not with glue or nails, but with wooden pegs. How many generations ago the table had been a beautiful piece, no one knew. Just when it became the "wash up table", complete with annual layer of fresh white paint and a linoleum top, no one was quite sure. How and when the table, so old that it had been put
together with wooden pegs, entered the family, no one quite remembered. The only certainty was that underneath the layers so thick it had hidden even the shape, was a beautiful graceful little table. Its warm cherry wood gleamed in reward for the time spent lovingly restoring it.
I think about that table a lot as I do family history. It seems as though a hundred stories uncovered are a bit like that table, and people too. We become accustomed to things, and so do our elders. We ask elders about something of the past and their answers, golden nuggets to us, seem so familiar and taken for granted by them. "But you never told me that!", I have exclaimed over and over, and received a surprised reaction in answer. And I find myself doing the same. One of my adult children asks me something I have known so long I take for granted, and I hear, "But
you never told me that!" I am surprised. I never thought to mention it.
I think about that table a lot as I live. I wonder how many "wash up tables" in life I take for granted, because they are so much a part of things. And I wonder if a warm beautiful treasure might gleam in reward, if I can only recognize "what is there" beneath the surface of that which I see every day. For me there is a tangible reminder. The table graces my own home, and is as meaningful in its symbolism as it is in its beautiful form. But, if we but consider it, most all of us have such a "table", don't we?
Just a thought,
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