THE OLD OAK TABLE
My first memories of the table are intertwined with those of my grandparent’s old house. They lived in the country, many miles away from our house in the city. We visited them every Christmas holidays and sometimes at Easter if my father could get a few extra days off. Then during the school holidays in winter my Grandad would drive down to the city in his old Standard Vanguard car, pick up my sister and myself and take us out to the property for a week or two.
Their house was at the end of a winding, dusty, dirt track. They owned a property of some two thousand acres and ran sheep and my Grandmother’s small flock of prize goats. A wide veranda ran all the way around the house. The front door opened into a hall that ran straight through to the back door. All the rooms opened off this hall, including the kitchen which was towards the back of the house.
My two most favourite places at my Grandparents were the kitchen and the machinery shed. The kitchen was where my Grandma made us children wonderful treats such as cakes, biscuits and freshly baked bread with butter made from the milk from the cow and covered with thick candied honey from their hives.
The shed was a place of adventure and discovery. There was the shiny new tractor, the ploughs, and many other pieces of equipment. When we had tired of playing on these there were dozens of old cupboards full of amazing things. The walls were covered with objects hanging on large nails that had been driven into the posts. There were even saddles that sat on large logs on the floor that we used to sit on and pretend to be cowboys or Indians.
However the kitchen was the place that I have the fondest memories of. Nearly one whole wall was taken up with the wood stove and large cupboards that were beside it. In the centre of the room was the largest table that I had ever seen. There was room around it for at least ten chairs but one end of it was where my Grandma prepared our meals and where my Grandad would whip the cream to make the butter. The other end was where we ate our meals and, at night, after he had lit the kerosene lamp, where Grandad would entertain us with his stories of the early days on the land. How he and Grandma had lived in a tent when they had taken up the land just after the First World War. How he had built this very house himself, the many trips it had taken by bullock dray to bring the materials to the site they had chosen. Grandma never said much but you could see that she was so very proud of Grandad.
During our visits in winter we would sit around the table and play dominoes and Grandma would open the front of the wood stove so it would warm the room.
My sister would sometimes help with the preparation of the meals and it was always my job to set the table and keep the wood box full.
They were wondrous times and even today I like to let my mind drift back to those days. Time, however, moves on. When the property had become too much for my Grandparents to manage they had sold up and moved into a house in the nearest town. My Grandad had never adjusted to life away from the property and just seemed to slowly wither away. He died just one year after moving into town. We visited quite often but it was not the same without Grandad. They had moved all their furniture into the new house but it was much smaller. We still ate our meals at the large table but it had to be pushed up against a wall so it would fit into the room.
When Grandma passed away my father arranged for the house to be sold along with all the furniture except the table. It was brought down to our house in the city. The only place where it could fit in was in the rumpus room. My father made a net to stretch across the centre and we used it to play table tennis.
Now both my parents are also gone and the auctioneer is moving through the house with a crowd of strangers. My sister and her second husband had insisted that everything be sold. My parents had left me a large sum of money but had left the house and all its contents to my sister.
At last the auctioneer moves out to the rumpus room at the back of the house. He points to the table and reads from his notes, “Item 124. A large old oak table. No chairs and as you can see it has had a hard life but with a bit of work it could be restored. What am I bid?”
I look over at my sister’s husband and he is watching me with an amused look on his face. I had asked them if I could purchase the table before the auction but he had refused, saying, “It is an antique and we want to get as much for it as possible, so it will be auctioned.”
The auctioneer looks around expectantly but the crowd is silent. He waits patiently and eventually an older woman puts in a bid of one hundred dollars.
I raise her bid to two hundred and the bidding goes back and forth and the table is eventually mine for five hundred dollars. I would have paid any amount to ensure that the table remained in our family but am secretly happy that my sister’s husband’s dream of it being an antique worth many thousands was not realised.
The table now sits in the family room of our new house. My wife, my two children and I eat our meals on it. My children do their homework there and my wife likes to use one end to do her cross stitch work. I never had it restored as every mark on it has its own story to tell.
Many times, as we eat our evening meal I look up and can see the old kerosene lamp, my Grandad in the midst of one of his fantastic stories and my Grandma smiling at him with love in her eyes.