By Chuck Tabaracci
The year 1968 was full of change and turmoil. Protesters were filling the streets against the war in Vietnam and for racial equality. Students were taking over college administration buildings. The sexual revolution was in full swing and television was reflecting all of these ideals. It was also the year that my parents decided to make a change in the house.
I was 14 years old in the fall of 1968 when all these changes were to take place. We lived in a mid-sized tract home built in the 1950s which carried the hopes and dreams of a normal middle-class family who wished to live the good life of home ownership. Although only about ten years old, the house was beginning to show the signs of wear and tear from raising a family, and mom wanted all new things. She was a woman of style and fashion who liked to keep up with the times.
Out with the old beige carpet and pink kitchen, in with the new! It was time for a modern look — avocado green and dark walnut. All the living room furniture and kitchen appliances were to be replaced. The only thing to remain was the dining room table, but it was to be refinished to match the rest of the changes. The table was purchased by my parents shortly after they were married and, although it was made of very light blonde-colored wood, it was built to stand the test of time and the whims of fashion.
“We’ll just take it downstairs and re-stain it,” said my dad. I knew what that meant. Being 14, I was loathe to do any more work around the house than I felt was absolutely necessary and this meant extra work. I wasn’t going to like it, but I helped carry it down the stairs. My first job was to help strip off the old gloss finish. To this day I still remember the smell of that varnish remover. It was a gelatinous goo that had to be brushed on, and then scraped off. It was hard and nasty work, but I managed most of it and my dad did what he could when he wasn’t working. I cursed that table many times during the process and muttered to myself, “Why didn’t they just buy another table along with the rest of the new furniture?”
After the old finish was stripped, my dad and I sanded it down and it actually looked like it was going to become fairly nice. Finally it was time to apply the new stain. Dad showed me how to apply it with a soft cloth so that I could rub the stain into the grain. As this process went along, I began to see the beauty of the wood come through, a beauty that had been hidden all those many years. I began to appreciate what my dad had told me, that if you buy a quality piece of furniture it will last a lifetime. I was amazed at how great it turned out. When the table was finished, we turned our attention to the six chairs. After my experience with the table, I was more than happy to work on them and see how they would turn out. The finished product was something that my dad and I could be very proud of. That was the year that table, and to some degree my life, was transformed.
As I now look back on my life, that table has always been the center of our family life. You can’t view an old home movie or look at family photos without seeing it in there. Roughly 1,275 birthday candles were blown out on that table. During the holidays, it was expanded by the use of a picnic table and card tables, stretching through the living room. The added size was needed to accommodate our Italian family which included the grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins all sharing in the holiday feast as one. Graduations, anniversaries, and any other special occasions were also held at this special table. It was the center of life for the simplest of gatherings, even if it was only coffee with neighbors, friends, and relatives. Eventually grandchildren came to eat and sit around this table to visit. This table carried so many memories of friends and relatives who are no longer with us, or who lived a very long distance away.
It also served as mom’s work and quiet area. Many evenings she would place her sewing machine there to mend torn clothing, or to make something new, especially matching outfits for the girls at Easter. She would also use its solid, trusty surface to do the budget and write out bills. Other evenings she would sit there quietly and pen letters in her beautiful cursive handwriting to distant friends and relatives, and let them know the latest news. Then, of course, there was the annual Christmas card gala. She would get out her address book and have cards spread all over the table so that she could hand write a personal letter to everyone on her list.
The table was the scene for a photo of a get-together of my mom and her sisters. Little did they know it would be the last photo of all five of them together. It’s where my dad was sitting, having breakfast when he suffered a fatal stroke.
Mom’s mind had been failing her, so the decision was made in 2008 to move her into a retirement center and, after 50 years from when it was built, the house was sold. She couldn’t bring too much with her to the new place, but she insisted that the dining room table would go with her. All the leaflets were taken out so that it was small enough to fit.
I lived several hundred miles away when that move happened, and so I went up to help her unpack some things and do a bit of organizing. As I was getting ready to fly back home, I went to her new apartment to say goodbye. I remember her as I was leaving, sitting at that table, gazing out the large, south-facing window at the distant mountains, and unconsciously running her hand gently back and forth across the surface. It was as if she was caressing and comforting an old friend. And she was.
Gay Writes is a DiverseCity Series writing group, a program of SLCC’s Community Writing Center. The group meets the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, 6:30-8 pm, 210 E. 400 South, Ste. 8, Salt Lake.