The Oak Table

For Mother’s Day, I thought I would post this excerpt of “The House and I,” a memoir I’m writing about owning the home of the late “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” author Betty MacDonald on Vashon Island, WA.


The kitchen on Vashon
The kitchen on Vashon

The Vashon house came equipped with two built-in bunk beds, a questionable queen sized bed in the guest house, two 60s era egg-shaped wicker chairs and a bejeweled thrift store painting that I requested from the previous owners, two more conventional wicker chairs, a grey piano with two candle holders attached and metal piano seat, and the requisite old-house cupboard full of half-empty cans of paint and stain (despite the fact that there are almost no painted surfaces in or around the house).

A kitchen table and chairs seemed the first order of business and they were the one thing I was happy to move from Seattle to Vashon as the white painted oak table and orange plastic chairs didn’t really suit the Seattle house. Only two years before, in a fit of questionable decorating projects, I spray-painted the beautiful oak table white. It was now stained with various colors of Sharpie, marred with scratches and unidentified blobs of crusty stuff that even a knife couldn’t scrape off. A white table would most certainly be out of place in the pine-paneled, terra cotta tiled kitchen of the Vashon house, which is how I found myself sitting on a tarp of newspapers on the dining room floor one Saturday morning, yellow rubber gloves up to my elbows, covered in orange smelling goo, stripping the round oak table and cursing myself. I scraped paint out of the claws of the lion-footed pedestal and apologized to the body-less lion whose feet I had cruelly defaced. As the oakiness of the table re-emerged, I remembered the day Arron bought the table at an auction. It happened to be the same June day that Olivia and I came home from a south Boston hospital twenty-four hours after her birth. Earlier in the day, before picking us up at the hospital, Arron found the table (precisely matching the description of a table I mentioned in passing I had always wanted) at an auction house and twenty minutes after we arrived home, insisted that we go and bid on it. He rushed me out of the house, certain the table would be gone before we got there and I frantically tried to pack the diaper bag and figure out how to put the baby car seat back into the car. I could already feel the tell-tale prickling that told me I was perilously close to yet another fumbled attempt at breastfeeding the baby. By the time we walked into the auction house, the table was on the block and the auctioneer’s gavel hitting the lectern as he yelled: “Sold for five hundred dollars!” Arron threw up his hand and called “Five twenty-five!” Everyone turned to look at us. I can only imagine how crazed we must have looked. The auctioneer looked dumbfounded but recovered quickly. “Can I hear five fifty?” He was met with silence. I looked at Arron as he broke into a wide grin when the auctioneer clapped his gavel down declaring, “Sold for five twenty-five!” Olivia squawked and I hurried to the car, where I sat awkwardly in the front seat holding Olivia like a football under my arm and trying to hide us under my t-shirt while Arron and the auctioneer slid the table into the back of the SUV.

I shook my head remembering how chaotic buying the table had been. “We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we Mr. Lion?” I said aloud. When I finished scraping, I wiped away all the goo and then polished the table with oil until it shone in the sunlight.

During their first visit to Seattle to visit us, My father and step-mother Sheilagh helped me disassemble the now denuded table, put it into my car and reassemble it again in the Vashon kitchen where my lion finally seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. The orange plastic chairs, (another of my questionable decor choices) were placed around it and suddenly the hub of the house came alive.


Happy Mother’s Day to all you awesome mothers and fathers being mothers out there!

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