BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON
Dad came around the corner from the hallway and there sitting underneath the dining room table was daughter Jessie, around three years old, practicing the Pledge of Allegiance she had learned from her friends on Sesame Street.
The table was Jessie’s refuge from the noise and hubbub of the recent arrival of twin sisters, born just months before. The table was where Jessie went for quiet time. She had the Pledge down pat. No doubt a brilliant child, Dad thought. She was just three, you know.
Eventually, Jessie would lose her exclusive rights to the table. All of her four younger siblings would develop their own special relationship with it. The table was nothing extraordinary. It wasn’t a family heirloom. It wasn’t exquisitely hand carved of rare wood from a South American jungle. It was of no great monetary value. It was just a good, solid, cherrywood table, built to last.
The table was bought 35 years ago in a strip mall furniture store in a lower to middle class enclave of Prince George’s County, Maryland.
It was the first piece of real furniture purchased by a young newly married couple looking forward to a brood camped around it eating home cooked meals and celebrating birthdays, holidays, and visits from the relatives. The dining room table, to most Midwestern middle class families, was a place for special meals, special occasions, and special memories. Every-day meals were at the kitchen table, but the special ones were in the dining room, at the table, everyone clad in Sunday best, on their best behavior.
Over the years, the table withstood a lot of abuse, and continued to contribute to the genesis and journey through time of precious family memories.
The first real damage came with the first dog in the family, a frisky black lab with itchy young teeth that dug deep into a couple of the legs. A careless Mr. Fix It dripped a very fast-drying Super Glue on one corner, leaving a permanent little blemish. The constant movement to accommodate the leaves caused a leg to come loose. Soup was spilled. Forks were jammed into the surface by children not yet schooled in their use. Dishes were dropped on it and sharp objects took their toll on its beautiful finish.
The table took it all. Through the years the kids sorted Christmas cards, wrapped birthday presents, did their homework, and entertained their friends on that table. They shared meals with grandpas and grandmas, distant uncles, and neighbors, and a new stepmom.
There were traditional exchanges on what each were thankful for each Thanksgiving and a massive spread of cookies each child was required to bake just before Christmas. There were blessings said, songs sung, and so many stories told about the adventures of the day or week just passed, the experiences of little tots to young adults, who played sports, fought piano lessons, and struggled so hard with the incongruities, unfairness and insecurities of their young lives.
Eventually the table, moved from one house to another, suffered the fate of separation that too many families suffer when life changes. The table was taken apart, one leg at a time, one leaf at a time, packed in bubble wrap, stored in a 6X12 foot container and put on a shelf in a warehouse, where it stayed while life took new paths without it.
The good news is that even tables can be reborn. This Christmas, the table sits all dusted and polished, in a rural New Jersey home. It’s the centerpiece of a new family dining room under a beautiful new chandelier, with yet another new set of homemade seat covers. Every leaf is in place, spreading the table top far enough to meet the needs of a growing family of Christmas revelers.
The table is where it belongs, not in some dark and dingy warehouse, but in Jessie’s home. She may well turn a corner one day and find her little nearly three-year-old having his quiet time under the table, living in his peaceful world, probably reciting something he memorized from Yo Gabba Gabba’s Plex, Foofa, Brobee, or Muno.
There’s another young father seated at its head. There are new faces around its edge, but most of the experience is familiar. The table just says volumes about the twists and turns of life, families, growing up, growing out, and growing old. It is so much a part of so many lives and life experiences.
No doubt, this Christmas in millions of homes around the country, there are other dining room tables, old cars, little red wagons, rag dolls, warm fireplaces and other family treasures that will spark warm memories and make the holidays a little more special.
So the table is a Christmas story, a happy one about family, togetherness, renewal and passage, about a time of year when even painful memories are good ones. For Dad, it is a line that has become a circle.
Those who sit at it this season, a very blessed and ever expanding family, no doubt will enjoy it and what’s served upon it, in a way so many less fortunate cannot. Hopefully, they will share their memories and their love and the old and new bonds they have as family and friends.
There will be new scratches and probably more dog bites, but that’s what has given the table its character and has given life its meaning.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.