Stealing a Memory From My Mom

Kate Flora: With the holidays on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about holidays past.

Kate begins to learn about marketing beside the orange mailbox

These days, there are far fewer people around the table, yet I still enjoy making all the food I grew up with. A too-big turkey with lots of stuffing, mashed potatoes. Creamed onions–because my dad required them. Squash and peas and gravy. Two or three kinds of cranberry sauce. Today, as I was feeling sentimental (and stuck on a short story I promised to write for an anthology) I was browsing through my late mother, A Carman Clark’s book of her collected columns: From the Orange Mailbox: Notes from a Few Country Acres.

I landed on a column from November about our dining room table, and I thought I’d share it with you.

The leaves which extend my old oak table are reminders of the important part this piece of furniture has played in country living. Closed, this drop leaf table measures only 2 feet by 3 1/2 feet, but, with four leaves added, a dozen people can dine together with comfortable elbow room.

Stripped of the table cloth its seven-foot surface stirs creative projects. It’s splendid for cutting and pasting wallpaper, making Christmas wreaths, laying out patterns for sewing, or organizing a bean factory to see how many quarts might be canned on a summer day.

Family Thanksgiving on the farm

About thirty years ago I received a phone call asking if I could us an old oak table–not beautiful but serviceable–and set forth in the farm truck to pick it up. Ida Hughes had sold her house and was negotiating with several dealers to dispose of her furniture. When one dealer offered her $2 for the kitchen table, Ida declared, “Before I would sell that table for $2, I’d give it to a good woman. My volunteer work at the elementary school where Ida was principal apparently earned me the opportunity.

Since Ida Hughes was born in 1899 and the table had belonged to her mother, it can be classified as an antique. When the white paint was sanded from the top, the golden oak turned out to be stained with ink. Several bottles must have spilled in those years when Ida corrected papers and wrote reports.

The extension leaves were missing. Ida had loaned them to someone years before and they

Gathered around the old oak table

had never been returned. The search for oak leaves with four pegs led us into second-hand shops and country auctions where–if the price was right–we picked up leaves of many shapes and sizes with a plan for splendid bookshelves. Eventually, during our annual family “apple stealing” event, when we drove back roads picking apples at abandoned farms, we found a neat rack holding four-pegged leaves, and an old iron bed with gargoyles grinning down down from the head of the bed. Applesauce and an extended table followed.

Over the years, the table has served some function in every room, even the bathroom when it was being papered. The summers when we hosted exchange students, it was moved to the shed where it could be opened full length to accommodate a steady stream of guests. The summer I gambled on turning down teaching jobs and gambled on earning the same amount of money by writing, the table became a desk in my bedroom.

The table accommodated an extended family for Thanksgiving. There were years when the disappearing taillights of those Thanksgiving guests gave way to the rattling of bowls as we used the table to make the Christmas cookies that would be mailed in tins to friends and relatives. When college years brought a need for evening gowns, lengths of red velvet and bolts of silver-flecked white were spread over the table as soon as the holiday meal was finished.

Around this old table 4-H girls learned to make yeast bread where eight could knead in harmony. Woman’s Day magazine published my article “Bowl Breads for Beginners” based on these many aspiring cooks, and many cooks who had never tried making break before started baking using these recipes.

Digital StillCamera

Evergreens snipped from woodland walks were woven into wreaths and ropes on this table. Smooth stones collected from beach walks were built into a crèche and driftwood from Moosehead Lake was polished and shaped as a background for Christmas figures to decorate the mantel. Scissors and paste covered the table surface for completing school projects. One art assignment, requiring originality, incorporated colored lint from the dryer.

Shaggy Turkish towels worked as a base for stringing necklaces from collections of broken beads. Designs could be tried and changed before the fishline was threaded through to hold them.

My dog, Miss Badger, escaped to the shelter of the table when too many people disturb her doggy privacy and the grandchildren climb under to pat her soft ears. There’s room for all of them.

View from where the table sits now

Christmas gifts are wrapped on the spacious surface and puzzles sorts to check for missing pieces. Here we enjoy Thanksgiving as a family and the grandchildren spread their papers and markers for drawing dragons. When I join them, my efforts always produce dragons that resemble fat goats.

As I put two leaves away and change the table pad and tablecloth size for a smaller supper party, reminders flow in. This old drop leaf table is probably the most practical article of furniture any country house could have.

KF note: The table now lives in an oceanside cottage in Maine, where it lends its surface to other projects. Following in my mother’s footsteps, several novels have been written on its venerable surface.

One lucky commenter on this post will receive a copy of my mother’s first mystery, The Maine Mulch Murder.

The Maine Mulch Murder by A. Carman Clark


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16 Responses to Stealing a Memory From My Mom

  1. John Clark says:

    Yup, many fine memories were created around that table.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great post!

  3. jselbo says:

    Best table memory ever.

  4. Jane Babbitt says:

    I loved your mother’s columns, and have similar memories of my mother’s table. Thanks, Kate.

  5. Julianne Spreng says:

    Our dining table was found abandoned in the side yard of the Methodist Church in Chesterland. It had been sitting uncovered for a bit and the seam running around the top had begun to lift. After much consideration dad hauled it home where it was sanded down and the seam was chiseled out to accommodate a double row of small tiles that we kids had found dumped in a hole back in the woods. The two extension leaves were located at each end. You pulled them out to lift and lock in place. When we thought we needed pocket money mum would hand us a toothbrush and soda to scrub the grout for which we were paid the huge sum of a nickle. It’s been an integral part of our family activities for over half a century.

  6. kaitcarson says:

    What a treasure!

  7. Don’t you love living with things that have a story. Even my occasional foray into thrift stores sometimes brings a treasure. A note in a pocket? A pair of earrings tucked away in a pocket? A wonderful hippie dress? And of course, a handpainted vase from around 1916! So much fun.


  8. Karen says:

    Enjoyed your story. All of our family dinner pictures featured milk cartons until someone would shout – wait, get the milk carton off the table before you take that picture! They never shouted take that wine bottle off the table though. My sister has my grandmother’s dining room table and credenza, but she warns everyone not to lean too heavily onto the table! Not sure how much longer it will last, but they certainly built furniture well in the old days.

  9. Kay Garrett says:

    Love the memories a kitchen table can bring back to life. My parents had the same silver and pink chrome dining table since 1954 – when I was just two. Dad had just came back from Korea and they bought a house. Then they looked at one another and said “guess we need some furniture”. That’s when they went and bought a whole house full on payment. Parts of that furniture came and went, but the table always stayed. When Mom came to live with us after cancer surgery and with Alzheimer, I sold my table and the table became part of our home. Years after Mom’s passing we moved to our forever home downsizing. Hubby knew my feelings about the table, but also knew I loved some Amish furniture we had looked at often lovingly. He asked me if I wanted to trade – that it would be my decision. We had outlived all our parents and our only daughter by then with no one to pass it on to. I figured it was time – that I wanted gathering and happy memories again around the table. Funny thing is when I advertised it the first woman to call was a young woman so excited at the prospect telling me about the one her Granny had and how she would love it and cherish it. I knew I had made the right decision. She was disappointed though when I told her the matching high chair didn’t go with it. For even with downsizing, there’s always room for a little memento of one’s past – a visual memory of good times. 🙂 It now sits in the corner of our eating area alongside the Amish made table I had dreamed up kind of like the past meeting the present and living together in harmony.

    Thank you for the chance to win a copy of “Maine Mulch Murder”.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  10. We had a yellow and chrome table that had a metal ledge underneath perfect for hiding bits of liver if the dog wasn’t around.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Loved the article. I enjoy hearing about your mom, have read both books and wish there had been time for more. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Beautiful and meaningful . . .and I love “I’d rather give it to a good woman.” <3
    My dad made a table from a door to accommodate 7 people at supper. 😉

  13. Maurissa Guibord says:

    What wonderful memories. I especially loved reading about all the creative projects that table has hosted!

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