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My wife was standing on the front porch when I pulled into the driveway coming home from a road trip. I was honking my horn with my left arm stretched out the driver's side window, waving. Melissa waved back, but not with the same enthusiasm I did. "Where are you going to put that," she wanted to know.
I was towing a 19' Scamp trailer behind the truck. "I'll park it out back," I replied.
"With the other seven Scamps," she asked. I wasn't sure if it was sarcasm or concern, but her voice had a different tone.
"Honey, there are only six Scamps back there, and besides, I got a terrific deal on it," I assured her. "Come down and check it out!"
Melissa walked down the path to the driveway and looked around inside the trailer. "It is pretty cool," she admitted, "but I think you need an intervention."
"I need an intervention?" I questioned, "And just how many dining room tables have we owned since I met you?"
"That's different," she said and turned toward the house. You might say I "turned the tables," diverting the conversation from my Scamp collection. But instead, it caused me to think and try to count how many tables we have owned.
When we were dating, Melissa lived in a small farmhouse in the country. She had a seventies-style round table and mismatched chairs. The table was used and not worth much, but it was a special table.
At that table, we ate the first dinner Melissa cooked for me; she made meatloaf, steamed veggies, and mac & cheese. After dinner, she surprised me with a homemade apple pie. That dinner has become a favorite meal of mine. (Except now, I bake the pies for her.)
While she lived in that house, Melissa bought a green metal ice cream table. The top and chairs were wire mesh, and the seats had flowers embossed in the back. I called it an ice cream table. "It's not an ice cream table; it's just a patio table," she said.
After about a year, she moved to a different place. The ice cream table moved with her to the new deck, but the kitchen table did not make the move. Instead, she bought a small bistro set with a dark, wood slat top and matching chairs. We enjoyed many meals at that small table. The next move was to Winona, Minnesota. Again, the ice cream and bistro tables went along.
In Winona, we were looking for a house. I always look for a home with a formal dining room, as I love having family and friends for dinner. We bought the Baker Street house. It had a large formal dining room with a bay window on the south wall. Once remodeled, I thought it was the prettiest in our home, with the best natural lighting. I could hardly wait to have company for dinner. Unfortunately, the thirty-inch round bistro table looked pathetically small in the big room. So, Melissa began the search for a different table.
We like antiques, and Melissa found a gorgeous antique table across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. We went to look at it. The heavy table seemed massive yet elegant with claw feet. It would have fit in our dining room, but we decided to pass. "It's a beautiful table," Melissa told the lady. "But it's too fancy for our craftsman-style home."
The lady said, "We're selling this table, too, if you're interested." The second table was simpler, a 1920s-era dining room table. It was dark brown mahogany and came with six matching chairs, one with armrests for the head of the table. I liked that. It was in very good condition; the only thing we didn't like about the table was the grey vinyl seat tops – but those are easy to change. So, we asked for the price.
"Well," the lady explained, "this our everyday table. We had it refinished twenty years ago, and the chair legs could stand to be reglued." Then, she thought for a moment, "I'd like to get $125." I tried not to act shocked, but I thought she would ask at least three times that amount. We wanted the table.
"If we go ahead and pay you now, can you hold it until next week," I asked?
"I'll tell you what; I'll let it go for a hundred if you can take it today." The lady wanted the table gone to make way for a new set to be delivered Monday. Unfortunately, it wouldn't fit in my Subaru. "You can use our old plow truck to move it home," she offered. The deal was getting better all the time. She even loaned us moving blankets to protect the wood finish and tie-down straps. We paid for the table and were soon on our way in a borrowed truck.
The table was the right style, color, and size. It looked beautiful in our Baker Street dining room. (Except for the grey vinyl cushions)
We sold the Baker Street house a few years later to move back to Ottumwa. The ice cream, bistro, and mahogany tables went with us.
In Ottumwa, we lived in an apartment while looking for a house. We put the three tables in storage. In the meantime, Melissa found a small antique drop-leaf table with four matching chairs. "We don't need another table," I protested as we walked out the door to pick it up. The four chairs were in good shape, but the table was not. So I brought my Grammy's table from storage and placed it in the dining room, with the antique chairs around it.
I remember sitting at that table in Grammy's kitchen in Mason City, Iowa. There were a few metal stools around the table, but I liked sitting against the wall. Grammy put blankets and woven throw rugs on top of the cast iron radiator so two or three little kids could sit there. It was always warm in the winter.
Grammy's table is about thirty inches wide and four-feet long. Each end of the table pulls out to extend the length. It's a light wood color, although I don't know what species. The tabletop has a stain from a wire coat hanger and another water ring from a glass. Grammy gave the table to Mom, and I got the table after Mom passed away. I never knew why the table didn't have any matching chairs.
One day, years later, while visiting my aunt Sally in Pennsylvania, we talked about that table. I asked about the chairs: "Mom always wanted a nice dining room table; she'd never owned a new one. One day, my dad got a good size bonus check from work," Sally told me. "Mom sent him to buy a nice table for their formal dining room. Mom was furious when Dad came home with that little-used table and four chairs for a family of seven. She threw such a fit of rage she started smashing the chairs.
"Well, Dad went out and promptly returned with a beautiful, brand new, expensive dining room table with four leaves, eight chairs, and a matching buffet." We shared a good laugh over that story. I remembered eating many meals at that big table, too.
"Since Mom had broken three of the four chairs, Dad couldn't return the table to the second-hand shop, so it went into the kitchen." Sally thought, "You know, I still have that last chair up in the attic. Would you like it?" So, I retrieved the chair and baked aunt Sally a fresh cherry pie to show my appreciation.
Melissa and I didn't stay in the apartment long before we bought the Albany Street house (another old craftsman home), and the remodeling began.
The mahogany table looked awesome in the finished Albany dining room. The bistro table fit perfectly on the enclosed front porch, and the green ice cream table went on the back deck.
The back deck was huge, so Melissa bought another outdoor table and six chairs for summer evenings when we had friends over to cook out. We spent many nights around those tables with family and friends, enjoying good food and life. Then one day, Melissa came to talk to me.
"There’s a sale this Saturday; some people are downsizing their house," she said. I knew something was coming. "They're selling a round oak dining room table, which would look reallsy good in our house.
I protested, "But what about the table we have now? I like this table."
"The round oak table will look even better," she promised. "Just come with me and look at it, please?" I agreed to go with her – but just to look.
It was indeed an attractive table and came with five similarly matched chairs; all oak, school teachers' chairs, I called them. The table looked great in our dining room.
I advertised the mahogany table and six matching chairs with grey vinyl seat tops. Despite not changing the fabric, the set sold right away for $350. It was like a new chapter in our lives.
Our next move was to Silver Bay, Minnesota. The round antique oak and the ice cream table came with us. Before moving, we sold the large outdoor table, the bistro table, and the chairs.
Our new house had an eat-in kitchen but no dining room. The house required a complete remodel. We planned to move several walls, finish the basement, add a three-seasons room, extend the house by eight feet, and add a formal dining room. Our furniture went into storage during the construction. Fortunately, the house had a large round kitchen table and five fifties-style metal chairs covered in vinyl with yellow flowers. It was our new table for the next several months. Then one day, Melissa came to talk to me.
"I think we should look for a different style table for our dining room," she said. Then she showed me an ad for a large rectangular table with an inlaid, parquet-style walnut top. It looked very cool. The table came with eight big upholstered chairs. I didn't care for the fabric, but that's easy to change. So, we drove down to the twin cities, bought the table, brought it home, and put it in storage.
As the dining room was closer to being finished, I realized that the new table and chairs were too big for the room. So, we advertised and sold the table before it was ever in the house.
I built a corner in the kitchen for a small table and chairs; I was thinking of putting Grammy's table in the kitchen. "I want to get an oak table, booth, and bench for this corner," Melissa said and showed me an advertisement. The set looks and fits great in our kitchen. Grammy's table went in the three-seasons room, in front of a big picture window overlooking the backyard.
The ice cream table went on the new deck; Melissa found a matching glider. The people also had another identical patio table set, so we bought it because there was room on the deck for two. I brought the round antique table from storage and put it in the dining room. I could tell from the look on my wife's face we were going to get a different table.
"I found this Pottery Barn trestle table in the cities," she said, "It's in excellent condition and reasonably priced. It won't last long, and I already have a buyer for our round table." So, I called the man in Minneapolis, who agreed to hold the table until we arrived.
The set had a bench and two chairs, but we needed more. "They still sell this table new; we can order two more chairs," she said.
The trestle set complimented our room nicely and the people who bought our round table, loved it! Finally, I thought we had bought our last table; but I thought wrong.
Melissa showed me an ad, "Look at this. It's a Barley Twist, English oak pub table, with four matching chairs." I questioned why we needed it. "You rarely see a table like this with the original chairs; this is an excellent buy!" The table was very cool. It was in our dining room corner for about a year before she sold it for a handsome profit. Then one day, Melissa came to talk to me.
"I am not driving to the twin cities to buy another table," I told her.
"Uncle Kenny and aunt Gail want to give us an antique round oak table," Melissa said.
I rebutted, "We had an antique round oak table, and we sold it to get this trestle table."
"Yes," she said. "But this table belonged to my great aunt and uncle. So, it's been in our family for generations. It's a little smaller, so we'd have more space in the dining room, and it has six chairs and two leaves we can put in when we need a bigger table for company." So, we began the journey to Austin, Texas.
Kenny had the top wrapped well in a heavy blue quilted moving blanket. After we loaded the table and chairs into the van, he handed me a piece of loose wood. "This goes on the leg right here," he showed me.
"When we had guests over for dinner, someone would inevitably bump the piece, and it would fall on the floor. I would say, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe you broke my uncle's antique table!'" Kenny was laughing as he told the story. "We had so much fun with this gag over the years I decided not to glue the piece back in place. I had already decided we would not glue the piece to the leg either. The table looks terrific in our dining room.
There's a special feeling when gathering at a table that's been in the family for generations. So someday, I'll give Grammy's table to one of our daughters, with the stipulation it must stay in the family forever, and if they refinish the table, they have to preserve the hanger mark and water ring!
In all, Melissa has bought fourteen different tables since I met her. But these are not just tables; they are a collection of stories and history of our family and friends gathered for holidays, birthdays, a celebration of new life, and sometimes someone's passing. They hold happy memories and times when tears fell. I guess that's why I always want our house to have a formal dining room – a place where memories are made.