I am not a materialistic person. As a glance at the barely-there contents of my wardrobe would tell you, the accumulation of stuff holds no interest. But there a handful of objects in our house that I really, really love.
One of those is our dining table.
It is a beast of a thing. Seven feet by five. Six sturdy planks of unidentified tropical hardwood, some of which are starting to separate so far that I can fit a whole hand down the resulting gap. The top is covered in scars, scrapes and gashes – each one a story. It holds secrets, this table – layers and layers of history.
It was originally a chef’s table at Donaldson’s in Edinburgh – a gothic style building built in the mid 1800s – which over the last 150 years has served as a school for orphans, a school for deaf children, and a World War 2 prison camp for Italian and German soldiers. When the building was sold about ten years ago, much of the furniture made its way into antique shops around Edinburgh, and it was there that we found our table – under a layer of dust down an alleyway in Causewayside.
We sanded it down. Added three inches to each leg so that our taller friends could sit comfortably. And then, with some considerable grunt work, we hauled the thing into the middle of our dining room.
So many of my Edinburgh memories are associated with that table. It’s where I sat up late into the night, burning candles and listening to DorkyDad play harmonica. It’s where I last drank coffee with a much-loved friend, now much missed. It’s where I set up my computer, and started a blog. In the throes of labour, I clutched one corner and hoped to absorb some of that table’s stoic strength. A year later we pinned bunting along the edges and spilled cake crumbs in the grooves as we wished DorkySon a happy first birthday. With our tears and our laughter, our arguments and celebrations, we kept adding to our table’s history, day after day after day.
But then we moved. From up north to down south, and the table wouldn’t fit into the new place. It sat, sad in the garage for a fortnight, until the removal truck returned and it was taken into storage. We bought another – smaller, lighter, and free of chefs’ cleaver marks. A fine wooden table. It did the job, for eighteen months, but it was not the same at all.
But then we moved again!
So that big old table was taken out of storage, and loaded into the shipping container, along with everything else we owned. Onto a truck in Dartford, down the motorway, then onto a boat. From Felixstowe to Singapore, with a short layover in Port Said… through the Suez Canal, then Fremantle, Melbourne, and finally to Hobart.
We have the beating heart of our house back again.
We had forgotten how heavy it is. When DorkyDad and I moved it a few feet and back, to straighten a carpet, we both had bruises on our forearms for a week.
After all that time apart, I am taking a little more care of our table now. It still ends up covered with piles of paper, and suffers the occasional splodge of yoghurt or bolognaise sauce, but now it also gets a weekly buff with some beeswax polish and a soft cloth.
Things often have to be extracted subtly from the gaps, like spinach from between your teeth. I like to imagine dropping a seed down there one day, and coming back a week later to find a small green shoot. But there is no need, really. The table has enough life in it without me adding any organic matter.
We use the property section of the paper for protection when DorkySon gets his paints out. But he likes to investigate the crevices, poking small pieces of Lego or crayon in to see how far they’ll go. I sometimes find little neon pink smears of Playdoh that have escaped their container and attached themselves to a leg. The first night we left DorkySon with his Tassie babysitter, we came back to find the two of them, red faced and giggling, hiding underneath.
This lovely table draws people to it. Just as I sat here and typed the first words of my blog, DorkySon now sits at his place and grasps a pen, tracing letters over and over in his notebook until they start to make sense. It is where books are read, where breakfast is eaten, and where big conversations take place. It is the place where, once again, DorkyDad and I sit up late into the night, burning logs on the fire, listening to the radio, sipping wine.
Our table is back, and all is good.