Its rich, dark color was lush and gorgeous.
Walnut. Timeless and classic.
Two simple but elegant chairs tucked into its ends. Matching benches, long enough to seat at least a half dozen little bums rested by its sides.
The catalog framed it perfectly in an upscale dining room painted blue. The price tag, “$3397.00”. It was a stretch but with her new income supplementing her husband’s, she’d have enough tucked away within a year or two. Made official by her January 1st resolution, she was determined. Pinching a penny here, saving a dime there…
All the while, she envisioned them, evenings at dinner, laughing together, praying together, talking for hours on end. Calculus at midnight. Early morning herbal tea. Summer game nights with crickets and a light breeze blowing from the windows. The fine craftsmanship would hardly show the wear of these hours, days, years spent at the center of their home.
Dozens of dollars turned into hundreds. Each passing week the figure grew. She was moving closer to her goal, her vision of dining perfection was enough to rival the pages of that upscale furniture catalog.
And then he came home, doc bag in hand. He never wanted to be a businessman, only a healer. And yet it was time to take the leap. Private practice, the next hurdle to face. The years ahead were full of possibility. Dreams of the healing arts, of making a difference, being a light to those who stood in need of it. It was time. The papers were signed, the deed passed over, a keychain made heavier by twice as many keys.
So he waited. Waited to help, waited to heal. That’s the thing about medicine, you must wait for them to come to you. But that’s the thing about business, you have to go to them.
The waiting turned into days, then weeks, then months. The farm table pennies turned into spaghetti and scrambled eggs; the dimes, electricity and air conditioning. Each passing week the figure diminished and she found herself moving away from the goal she came so close to.
Within a year the ‘table fund’ was all but gone. Life had overtaken the hope. The punishment of reality settled in. The ‘supplemental’ of her income wasn’t so supplemental any longer. After paying for yet another necessity, she was once again, starting over.
Meanwhile, those months of toil welcomed another tiny bum to find a seat for. Saving would be harder and it would certainly take longer. But she would find a way.
That ‘way’ came in the form of a burst of brand new inspiration. ‘Instead of buying one,’ she thought. ‘We can build one!’ Her heart danced with hope and determination once again.
Enter the brother, a woodworker by training, with a shop full of tools and shelves adorned in a thick blanket of wood dust. In a grown-up version of a story about grown-up toys, perhaps names like ‘Woody’ and ‘Buzz’ wouldn’t have been such a stretch for tools like these, itching to find purpose.
The plans drawn out, the measurements cast. She set about looking ahead, finding that new way.
70 feet of knotty alder packed in the back of her missile of a minivan. Her excitement fluttered as visions of forced family fun returned to her mind. And there she stood, at the entry of that quiet shop, full of the Buzzes and the Woodies of the woodworking world. Suddenly, a startling realization smacked her upside the head:
She had no idea how to make a kitchen table.
That $249.58 of alder she scrounged up seemed as though it could have been better employed as school shoes and backpacks, lunchboxes and socks. And yet there it was, an unassuming, uninspiring pile of 4x4s and rough cut wood.
Panic. Pure, unadulterated panic. Now what?
Left to her own devices, this project wouldn’t even be a toss-up between success or failure. It would almost certainly be a complete disaster. (Much like the rectangle cutting board she made in shop class during high school. It came out the shape of an amoeba. She got a C-.) Many deep cleansing breaths intended to calm a jittery mind later, she regrouped and replanned her attack.
‘There would be A LOT of cutting. A LOT of gluing. A LOT of sanding’ he informed her, not wanting to lead her to believe the project would be easy. Her brother was always good about being real.
‘Psssssh’ she responded. ‘How hard could it be?’
The first few cuts, the first angles glued. It began to take shape. With careers and households to juggle, progress was slow but smooth. What could possibly go wrong?
Famous last words.
She awoke in the ER. A major scare, a charmed life of health and physical independence shifted in one day to an unsure future with an unsure diagnosis. Suddenly home-bound, completely dependent upon others to guide her through this insecure future, she could no longer fight the despair.
The long, gloomy days grew colder. The hope that returned with her brilliant idea began, once again to dim. The piles of wood and a splintery unstained bench sat in the chilly shop, awaiting their potential. But she couldn’t, wouldn’t think about that now. She was too busy hurting, mourning the lost assumption she was immortal.
One uneventful day after another, she was stuck. Bored. Depressed. Until she could take it no longer. Wrapping herself in a long, fluffy winter coat, a scarf and mismatched gloves, she quietly slipped into that shop, welcomed by her long neglected project. The lonely silence ended with the sounds of the sander. Hours past. The scratchy paper buzzed along the wooden planks smoothing the rough surfaces into a smooth-as-cream finish. Her angry, fearful tears splattered then soaked into the wooden planks. Her broken DNA forever embedded within the wood even before the stain would.
Sanding…more sanding…sanding into forever.
It got very boring.
There’s a perceived indignity to what feels like busywork. Like Ralph Macchio, with his bazillion ‘Wax-Ons and Wax-Offs’, it’s difficult to see the point. Until, that is, he did. And she did too. Then she realized all that glue, the c-clamping, the trimming, it all meant she had a table sturdy enough to hold the weight of her body as she aimed crane kicks at some invisible opponent. The added bonus? No splinters because she spent half her life sanding the dang thing.
Next came stain the color of Walnut. Then more sanding. Of course, she began to recognize the project as a piece of furniture so she didn’t mind so much. Weeks went by and the cold, lonely winter finally began to fade. Her health began to improve and she found herself adjusting to this new sense of purpose, honoring the suspicion that she still had many decades in front of her.
She tried to sand a little every day. She had other things to do, peanut butter sandwiches to make, fairy tales to read, but she kept at it. It was Monday when she finished smoothing out all those surfaces. Her hands buzzed with the muscle memory of holding the sander. Her neck was sore from all the leaning but she could finally wind up its cord and put it away.
By that time, it was well into Spring. The fresh air ventilated the room heavy with fumes of Tung oil treatments. Layers upon layers of it. Coincidentally, this is where her previous unknown ‘Wax-On’ and ‘Wax-Off’ skills really came in handy.
She was done. Or, in reality, they were done since most of the heavy lifting was had by her husband and her brother. Sure, she did a lot of the busy work, the sanding, the staining, the ‘tunging’ but it was never a solo project even for a second. She was never as alone as she sometimes felt. They packed up the tools, swept up the sawdust and rolled up all the drop cloths. There it was, her $3397.00 farm table and benches, paid for with $249.58 cash and hours upon hours of hard work.
In those sublime moments of soaking in such a splendid victory, she realized a rather remarkable thing: This monster project she was so ill equipped to do on her own saved her anyway. It gave her hope when she thought she’d lost it. It gave her a purpose she didn’t know she had. It gave her strength where there was once a weakness, a sense of casual commitment only when convenient. She ended up much stronger than she ever thought she was. Who knew this hard thing that seemed so daunting at the front-end could be so glorious at the back-end?
Who knew, indeed?
I suspect there are a lot of people who knew, and still know…but I also suspect it’s because they’ve had to face their own farm tables too.