The Big Table

Twenty-five years ago, it was what we could afford. Now it’s priceless.

The Big Table joined our family in September 1989, one month before the birth of our youngest child, Katie. We were in the midst of a major renovation to our 1940s Colonial in Dominion Hills when we spotted the solid-oak piece at an antique store. Measuring 4 feet wide and 6-and-a-half feet long, it fit perfectly into the space we had designated as a dining room. It seemed destined to be ours.

Since then, the table has played host to more special occasions than I can count. That includes “Matt and Katie Day”—an annual tradition that began in 1992 when our son (then 7) observed the unfairness of having a Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparents Day, but no official kids’ observance. So it was that Aug. 17 became a day to be celebrated with sugared cereal and a special activity of each child’s choosing.

The table has seen plenty of day-to-day action, too. Mansions and fortresses built with plastic building blocks. Epic Monopoly battles that went on for days. Assembly lines of colorful forms and permission slips announcing school field trips, picture days and PTA fundraisers.

The thrill of class assignments returned home with smiley faces and A’s. The agony of college rejection letters.

Many years’ worth of pumpkins were carved at the table, from snaggle-toothed jack-o’-lanterns to more elaborate, pattern-cut designs. At Christmastime, it became a construction site for gingerbread houses, covered in every candy imaginable that could be turned into an architectural element—jelly-bean pavers, peppermint-stick picket fences, gumdrop roof shingles.

From the time my daughter was 3 until she was 8, the table welcomed us for a mother-daughter tea party every Valentine’s Day. Formally set with Katie’s pink plastic tea service, it collected the crumbs after we baked muffins and made finger sandwiches of cream cheese and cucumber on white bread.

Serious matters were also brought to the table. As parents, we expected the conversations about grades, not making the team, or best friends who were no longer best friends. But nothing prepared us for the talks we would have with our kids after Sept. 11; after the Washington snipers killed a woman who was shopping at our Home Depot; or after the Virginia Tech shootings, which happened the same year Katie went to college. Gathering around the table provided a sense of security when the world around us was unrecognizable.

When our first grandnephew arrived in 2003 (followed by our grandniece in 2007), the table was once again joined by a high chair with a Winnie-the-Pooh splat mat underneath. The food was flying and I couldn’t have been happier.

But we were cramped. My husband and I started looking for a new, larger dining set to accommodate our growing family. The problem was, none of the styles suited our taste. They were either too formal or too modern.

We finally decided to have an extra leaf built for the table we had. I was lucky to find a wonderful craftsman from Maryland, who assured me he could build a new leaf that looked like it had always been there. Watching the table leaving the house under the carpenter’s care, I worried. I felt as though I were sending a child off to sleepaway camp for the first time.

Today, our life around the Big Table continues to evolve. Now large enough for 12, it offers plenty of room for girlfriends and boyfriends—and perhaps, one day, grandchildren.

The fact that we no longer have family meals every night of the week makes it even more special when our kids do join us for dinner. At 27, Matt is a writer and editor, and lives in Clarendon. Katie, 23, is a professional chef and owner of a local catering business. In place of the plastic tea set, she now uses the table as a tasting station for her latest recipes. We’re happy to be her test subjects.

It’s been nearly a quarter century since the Big Table came to reside here. The golden glow of its original finish is long gone, replaced with the scratched and dinged patina of an object well used.

One sunny morning, I am tempted to chip away at a drop of glitter glue that catches my eye. But I don’t.

Laura Fox is a marketing consultant and freelance writer in Arlington.

Categories: People