When my ex-husband and I got engaged and bought our first house in 2001, we spent months hunting for the perfect furniture that felt right in that 1800s New England farmhouse. We spent hours in retail stores and came home empty-handed each time. Then one day we stopped at a flea market, where I spotted a set of carved wooden legs as soon as we walked in. They were ornate, with lots of detail, and although I didn’t know what they were, I feverishly dug through the piles of tables, chairs, and lamps to find the other missing pieces. When the dealer came back to his booth with steaming coffee in his hands, I practically attacked him, demanding to know what the legs belonged to.
He set down his coffee, and a huge smile appeared on his face as he reached for something behind a large dresser. “It was our first dining room table. My wife and I got it when we got married. Here’s the top of it. It’s old and needs a lot of work, but it was made locally years ago right here in Maine.”
As we drove home with our new dining room table stuffed in the car, I felt like the luckiest person. My ex-husband and I put it together, sanded it down, and stained it dark brown. A few years later, as our family grew and we moved into a bigger home, we had a leaf made for it.
There were so many dinners, gatherings, and desserts served on that table. Every night I’d wipe it down and think about what a find it was. After we had two kids, I got new chairs for it. When we had our third, we had some benches made so it could hold more people when we entertained.
The overhead light above it and the carpet underneath it changed about six times during the twenty years we had it. But that table always stayed the same.
After my divorce, there was something about wiping it down every night and setting it for special occasions that tore at my soul. Looking at it reminded me of many things: the day we brought it home, the hours my ex and I refinished it, and all the family meals and holidays it had hosted.
Once I was the only adult in the house, I gradually redecorated almost every room. It was therapeutic and the boost I needed to have a fresh start. But that table — the table I still loved — was too painful to look at every day. So, on a whim, I sold it online, and someone scooped it up that day.
I replaced it with a small table that’s round and white and shiny. It only seats four because that’s what we are now: a family of four who tends to eat on the go. We are rarely all home at the same time for a meal, so when I ordered it, it felt practical. Like the right thing to do.
But I realized it wasn’t when my three teenagers filed into the house at different times later that day and saw our dining room table was gone. I didn’t think they’d notice. I figured they’d mutter something like, “cool” or “nice” as I told them about the new table as they walked up to their rooms with their heads in their phones. But that’s not how it went. They were speechless and wondered why I’d gotten rid of something so special — something that held so many memories and had been a fixture they’d counted on seeing when they walked in the door, regardless of who was living there.
Where the old table brought up a lot of stuff for me, our new table brought up a lot of things for my three kids. It’s a reminder that we are smaller now, and while my kids know that, they don’t want to be reminded of it every time they walk into the dining room. These places are supposed to be warm, comfortable, and feel like a hug.
And so, here I go again, ordering another table. One that seats six and is the same shade of wood as our old table. And while it’s not the same one, it has been approved by each of my kids, and honesty, that’s the most important thing to me.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.