September 7th, 2018

This is a table my father built.

There were two of them and when I was a child they flanked my mother’s bed for a period of time. My sister and I had chores every weekend and I dusted these tables with lemon furniture polish and rags made from torn cotton. My mother smoked cigarettes while reading in bed, and the ashes, mixed with the polish, would gather in the corners and stick in the crevices. I’d tighten the cotton around my finger and dig my nail into the corners as deep as I could, but I could never get it all.

After she remarried, the tables moved to the basement. Then, when my sister was furnishing her own home, they migrated there, to her own basement. Last Christmas, when I slept next to one, I realized it would make the perfect coffee table for my small apartment. The top lifts off like a tray. I imagined small gatherings in which I loaded the tray with cheese and grapes and bread and carried it from my kitchen area the three steps into the living room and placed it in front of guests who would ooh and ahh at the convenience of a piece that is both a tray and a table.

So at the airport we wrapped it in plastic and it boarded a plane and met us in Vancouver. I decided the stain–almost black–was too dated and the cigarette burns had to go. This home is now. This home is healthy. But paint stripper wouldn’t bite through the surface layer and we ended up having to sand down every inch. It was January and the rain kept us in the garage and a fine layer of dust flew up from the electric sander and settled on the lawn chairs and my bicycle so that when I arrived at work my hands would be covered in a fine brown silt.

Even the smallest of renovations take longer than one can imagine and between classes and dog walks and meal preps and workouts and time spent sitting in silence it was two months before the table was ready to reenter our home and fulfill its dual purposes: to remind me that my father made something; to hold the things that nourish us (books; food; drink).

Of the first guests we had over, one was a woodworker. I told him my father had made this table and he looked at it closely, lifting the tray, running his hands along the legs.

“I don’t think he made this,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“These pieces were built in a factory and he fit them together.”

Same, same, I guess, but different. I can’t ask my mother if that’s true, because she’s gone. And I can’t ask my father, because he is gone too. But regardless of what role my father played in constructing this table, it has proven very useful in this home, and for that, I am grateful.