Saturday, October 19, 2013

In HIs Footsteps

Wobbly table gets a new life.
My father could never be accused of being a handyman. He did know which end of a nail to hit and he had a handsaw hanging in the garage for emergencies but he made no apologies for having little aptitude for building or repairing things. So, when my mother requested a small table she could use as a sink counter extension we thought Dad would head to the nearest furniture store and purchase one. Head out he did, but after a fruitless search for a table that was both tall enough and narrow enough for the allotted space, he announced to us children that he would have to make it himself. My brother, who was taking carpentry lessons from a neighbor, offered to help, but my father politely declined, saying he wanted the table to be a surprise for my mother. We had no doubt it would be.

 I followed him out to the taproom where his worktable stood. Beneath the large workspace, which was covered with boxes of things that hadn't found their way to proper storage, were a number of boards of varying lengths. Stored on the floor beneath them were cans of paint, some half-used, some unopened.
Dad sent me into the garage for the handsaw. When I returned he had a board trapped in a vice and was hammering another board to it. I watched, impressed, as he selected, measured and cut another. Catching my expression he said, "I took shop in high school. I know what I'm doing."

Hence I didn't worry at his perplexed look when it came to affixing the legs to the narrow frame he'd nailed together. He had, by chance (or from some previous, unfinished project), four long, straight pieces of wood that seemed the perfect shape for table legs. After fussing about with them for awhile, he had me hold each piece flush into its proper corner of the frame while he nailed them in. The result was a bit wobbly but serviceable, a word that dominated my father's vocabulary.

He dug about in the board pile until he found one that was bigger than the frame. With a steady hand he spread wood glue along the frame edges, set on the table top and clamped the whole thing together. "We'll paint it tomorrow," he told me. We draped the project with an old sheet he used for catching paint spills and went in to dinner.

After supper the next evening he jerked his head at me and winked. I scrambled after him into the workroom. Dad pried the lid off a can of blue paint first but there was a mere inch in the bottom of the can, thick with scum. A can of brown paint wasn't much better and the white paint was so old it was ochre clear through. "This," said my dad, holding up a new can of canary yellow paint, "will have to do."

I had my doubts that Mama would be delighted with a canary yellow table in our predominantly pastel kitchen but I held my tongue. Turning the table upside down, Dad let me help paint the legs. "Tomorrow, when they're dry," he told me, "we will put a coat on the top and it's done!"

If my mother wondered what we were doing out there, she never asked. If she'd peeked beneath the sheet and saw what my father was planning to surprise her with, she never said. The night after we applied the final coat of yellow paint, my father proudly bore the table into the kitchen, setting it down next to the sink. It was nearly the perfect height. A shim stuck behind one of the legs countered the general wobbliness, and the canary yellow paint brought what I hoped my mother would think of as a bit of sunshine to brighten up her work space.

She looked at my father with wide eyes. Her hands flew to her cheeks as she examined his craftsmanship. Then she turned to us and with undisguised pride said, "Just look what your father has made for me!" And, as she turned to the sink, "Ask and thou shalt receive," muttered sotto voce so only I heard.

That table stood by the sink until both of my parents passed away and my sister, who inherited the house, had the kitchen remodeled. At my request, she saved the table for me and it made its way to my Vermont log cabin where I painted it white, covered its top with serviceable red and white plaid contact paper and stuck it near my own sink. It followed me back to the house of my childhood when I returned to Massachusetts and again to the cottage when I moved here a dozen years ago.

Today it's again being painted, a soft white to blend with the decor in my living area. As I peeled the old contact paper from its top and sanded the chipped paint on the legs, revealing for the first time in years its original color, I remembered the table's beginnings. Like my father, I'm no handyman though I enjoy reclaiming old things for repurposing. People often say to me, "You are your mother's daughter," when I do something they think is particularly witty or clever. Today, replacing the lost shim and catching paint drips that slithered down over Dad's old paint drips, I realized I am my father's daughter, too.

Daybed with trundle replaces old sofa.


Brian Miller said...

smiles...what a cool story...and piece to have that i am sure brings back so many more memories as well...i have a table my great uncle made at the end of my couch ....

Tabor said...

What a lovely story. You are wise to keep those things with great memories.

Out on the prairie said...

What a lovely story, I am glad this has remained a family treasure.

Wisewebwoman said...

Tears pricked my eyes as I read this. Your father's presence in the story is vivid!


Tabor said...

Regarding your question these are mallow blossoms...a wild type of hibiscus that grows along my river.

A Cuban In London said...

What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

Greetings from London.

Judith said...

A beautiful story ---
And a beautiful table to stand in your room and recall the beautiful story every time you look at it.

Barbara Shallue said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Pauline. My dad wasn't a handyman, either, but could create things we needed from scrap wood, and he loved to paint. I loved watching him. I'm so glad you still have that table.

Pauline said...

Thanks everyone - I've been away and am just now catching up on blogs.

Hilary said...

What a touching and beautiful story. And the table itself has so much beauty with all that love behind it. It was a gift of love, received with love and you continue to love it through the years. Just beautiful.