Tucked into the edge of the closet, hiding like a shy schoolgirl behind her mother’s long woolen coat, the old card table lays in waiting. A product of the 50’s, vintage now; almost antique even, it was once the master of Friday nights and occasional Sunday afternoons; taking center stage in the living room after the couches had been slid back against the wall and the coffee table moved to the bedroom. Now we pull it out as our third option, behind the new Costco plastic tables, for the massive gathering at our Thanksgiving feast.
That poor old table is glad to see us. Four metal legs tucked in the edges for storage, a little rusty at the hinges. The slender legs click as they are pulled into place, the square table top rolling like a caveman’s wheel over the carpet as each leg is released, one at a time. Because the top is made of compressed cardboard, it’s very light and I flip it handily once the legs are out; lean on it to make sure its stable, then swipe a damp kitchen dishtowel over the top, clearing the dust from the vinyl covering, brownish-beige and speckled with gold glitter. I carefully cross the tiny tear in the right hand corner. The tear has been there for almost a whole generation. I remind myself to find the Elmer’s glue and fix that, but instead reach into the drawer of our long black hutch and pull out a tablecloth. Taking it by the corners I flick it through the air and carefully guide it as it falls to the table, like those plastic camouflage parachute soldiers we tossed into the air when we were kids. I push my forearms over the fabric, like opposing windshield wipers, pressing the wrinkles out to the edges. The scent of fabric softener rises to my nostrils as I lean closer to the table. From under the kitchen sink I retrieve a plastic spray bottle, filled with water. Pumping it over the cloth I let the mist sink to the table top, set for a minute, then call Dave over to take the other two corners and pull out the creases. Here in this desert place it dries in a minute and the creases are gone, almost like I had used an iron. The tablecloths unify the variety of tables in the kitchen and adjoining family room. They are all ageless and rank-less once they’re dressed for Thanksgiving Dinner.
That old table has held a lot of our family history on her thin metal legs. Early on she saw the underside of bridge cards, way back in the arid air of Shelly, Idaho. The cards fanned out face-down on her shiny new top. I picture my aunts situated across from each other, their high heeled shoes tucked against the foot rests of their folding chairs, their wrists leaning on the table edges, infusing traces of rose scented toilet water into the vinyl. If I close my eyes I can hear their voices; low pitched and glottal with that familiarly comforting nasal quality and crisply enunciated Idaho accent. Very few sounds are as comforting to me as the voices of the women who nurtured and raised me. I recall the sweet calm of falling asleep as I waited to ask my mom a question when she was on the phone. I’d sit there on the side of her bed, waiting dutifully for her to finish. Eventually I’d plop over onto the pillows, drifting peacefully off to rest, lulled to the music of my mother’s voice simply talking. Didn’t matter if it was business or pleasure.
I'm thinkin' table must know an awful lot of secrets, sitting silently all those years as my mom and her sisters gathered around her. When we moved to Pittsburgh the games ceased. The table was relegated to the basement, where we kids took over. At Christmastime we glumped our miscellany on top, pieces of this and that used to make something or other; the stuff imaginative kids will use to create treasures. One year I spread wood shavings on her, gluing and clamping with potato chip bag clips, making ornaments for my Christmas gifts. Another year I made clothespin dolls. I recall cutting into pieces of lace found in mom’s sewing box, tacking collars onto those clothespin dolls. I found out later that the lace I had snipped was a precious piece of heirloom tatting made by Grandma Jenson. It’s to my mother’s credit that she did not reprimand me for that.
Later on, the table held balsa wood ornaments we cut and painted to hang on our tree. When mom finally moved in with Dave and me, after we were married and had bought our home in Pittsburgh, the table joined our limited collection of furniture. I stored gingerbread houses on her, lined up assembly-line fashion, waiting to be delivered to clients of Cori’s Unforgettable Edibles. Christmas Eve we slapped rolls of wrapping paper atop her, cutting and taping and ribboning till the wee hours of Christmas morning. It became the base of Lemonade stands, of bake sales, of garage sale cash boxes and concert CD sales. It held utensils and plates and bottles of pop at open houses; root beer floats at youth activities and brightly wrapped packages at birthday parties. Thinking about it, she was so much a part of the family she could have joined us in family prayer if her legs had been able to bend.
It’s a sweet thing to have a portable table on hand. It means there is enough room in our home to shift things a bit and welcome more people in. More chairs at more tables. Bounty beyond what our foremothers could have dreamed. So much, so easily obtained, and so gratefully spread on our large wooden dining table, two long Costco banquet tables, and one beautifully dependable well worn card table.