Why We Build Castles

In our family room, we have this table that allegedly came with our house. The story goes that the carpenter that built our house in the 1920s (for $800!) was asked by Alice’s grandparents, to make them a table. He had some nice clear pine lying around, and knocked together this table. It has a hinged folding leaf that stays in place with a pair of hidden sliding 2x2s. Underneath the table are places where the children, including Alice’s Dad, supposedly scribbled with pencils.

This table has almost everything. It was built by a man who apparently believed so strongly in socialism (a Red Finn) that he eventually emigrated to Russia. It was used by Alice’s Grandparents, Dad, Aunts, and Uncles, and shows traces of their growing up (even an old wad of gum!) It was given to us by the member of the family that had stored it until we fixed up the house and could be returned to its rightful location.

This table is also one you would probably walk right past at a garage sale if it had a tag for $5 on it. Lots of sentimental value, but not much of a table when you get right down to it. When our family is gone from the planet, this table will probably follow us to a landfill in short order.

But what if that family had had some Jed Clampett luck and discovered a million dollar lode of silver on their property? The table would have probably been tossed out by them long ago, and replaced with a birdseye maple table with matching cushioned chairs. Other valuable pieces would have followed because heck, we can afford it! These pieces were too good not to take care of, so a bigger house was necessary. And when that house filled up, an addition was built or a new one sought. If the money holds up, a castle, full of historical pieces, stands where the little house once stood.

And so it goes. Our everyday stuff is run through the wringer, worn, patched, sold or scrapped. The expensive stuff needs to be polished, kept at the right humidity, and sold at Sotheby’s when the family has no further use for it.

I do enjoy visiting museums where these amazing pieces are on display. I’m most interested in the skill the craftsmen had to conceive, carve, and join these pieces often without the use of any power tools. But I also get a lot of satisfaction working on a puzzle on our plain pine table, thinking about our ancestors sitting around it, shooting spitwads, making faces, and doing what children have always done. The stories that table could tell…

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