The Table came with the house. Or should I say, the house came with The Table? Since 1946, it hasn’t moved from its domain. Like a silent family patriarch, a rich history is recorded on its sturdy benches and time worn surface. Three generations from our family have poured coffee and broken bread ‘round its being.
It has no pretense for style or elegance, nor comfort and grace. The benches are hard and straight edged. The table top, edged in a chrome-like metal, are sharp and hazardous. It is safe to say, The Table is not crème de la crème.
So when it was proposed that we get rid of The Table, I couldn’t believe what was said! It was as though it had been suggested that tear out the apple trees! Or burn the family Bible! Or I had to repeat the idea in my head in order to digest it. Get rid of the old Table???
We were planning a remodel, the second for this old farm house, and someone assumed that we would surely get rid of The Table. This was unimaginable … no, unthinkable! I had to agree, The Table was old in the sense of, well, seasoned. And not very pretty, I’ll admit. But it has a place in the history of this old house, and moving it to the barn or firewood pile would be like tearing away the precious or burning the sacred.
Built for Grandma Diehl in 1946, it is plain, but sturdily built. Its 8’ by 4’ slab top is supported by plain Jane legs; the same style benches stretch the length of its expanse, posted underneath when not in use. The bulk of its structure is painted milk white, the benches accented with black paint on the edges. Cream colored linoleum covers the expansive table top; inscribed with a mottled sheen, its surface is a semi-random road map of wear produced by years of passing potatoes and pushing hot coffee. Yes, this Table is anything but pretty … but despite its lack of beauty, I cherish its company in the family kitchen.
Created for utility, its job was to accommodate thrice daily meals for hired help. Grandma Diehl’s kitchen was the idyllic picture of what American farms provided for their hired help. This was a time when room and board was common wage; Grandma prepared hearty provisions for laborers on the dairy farm that she and Grandpa Diehl operated in the Prickly Pear Valley near Helena, Montana. Along with five sons of her own, the workers at the ranch were rewarded with home cooked meals served at The Table in the main house. The benches endured field-dirty Levi’s and shop-greasy coveralls, being refurbished annually with fresh paint to cover the year’s scratch and dent collection.
When Grandma and Grandpa moved off the ranch to a home in town, my husband’s parents inherited The Table and the 1917 home that housed it. Peggy was the new keeper and cook. A new remodel replaced painted cupboards with varnished birch cabinets. A new stove and dishwasher came on to the scene. The ranch help now received twice daily meals, cooked by the young farmwife along with four of her own little diners.
The increase of technology brought decrease in laborers, but the quality of provender retained the Diehl reputation for home style and bounty. When I arrived on the farm in 1973, only one hired man was fed at The Table. By this time, three of the young diners from Peggy’s table had become the workforce. The fourth was her mother’s assistant. I watched with admiration, the joy and diligence applied to the cooking duty. Pitching in was my internship; too wrapped up in teenage activity, this eighteen- year-old had never learned to cook. Peggy’s farmwife ease in putting on the chow inspired my domestic side and her example of casual hospitality was a trait I desired and had determined to acquire.
In 1979, my turn came to move into the “main house.” I looked forward to the prospect of filling these women’s shoes, or better, their potholders. The farm technology now meant only seasonal need for a few hungry teens during the summer months. While raising three small children, I relished the art of filling the hollow legs of two or three teenagers whose mothers rarely cooked such fare. In addition to our daily meals, holidays and birthdays gave occasion to surround The Table with the Diehl clan, an extended family then numbering 13 in all.
By 1984, the condition of the birch cupboards, battered by years of constant duty, necessitated a kitchen remodel. A new design removed the wall between livings and dining area; the old birch cabinets retired to the barn and new oak cabinets took up residence. A vogue country look replaced 60’s decor. The Table still stood, a quiescent body of stout furniture, though clearly outmoded with its cream colored linoleum and saddle sore benches.
Enter the question… get rid of the table… get rid of The Table?????
The thought never tasted a second of consideration, or a bite of regard.
But, after some food for thought and a pound of effort, The Table and benches made a debut with a fresh coat of robin egg blue. The linoleum gave way to an oak trimmed slab of “almond leather” Formica, this time angled at the corners. A smorgasbord of gum was scraped from the underside and hours of elbow grease had removed Grandma’s annual bench painting.
The Table remains in this remodeled state, with one alteration made in 1991. The conclusion of that year’s wheat harvest brought change; a spinal cord infection stole the use of my husband’s legs. A ramp to the old house would be built and a taller clearance was carved at one end of The Table, allowing David’s wheelchair to be seated at the head.
The Diehl family clan, then 24 in all, still allowed us to live in the house that is home for The Table, though our share of the work has been lessened by the presence of the wheelchair. And sadly, Lou Gehrig’s disease claimed Dan, the third born of Peggy’s little diners. At present, the third generation dines at The Table. Our son, Nicholas, after completing his college degree, declares his commitment to come back to the farm. Two sons-in-law, Trinity and Jeramy, have been welcomed to dine, and room for the fourth generation is numbered at five kidlets.
Now, at my new home, built to accommodate David’s wheelchair, I sit down for a solitary breakfast, (for my diners have all flown the nest), the sun’s slanted rays shine on the ranch to the west of us. I now have taken leave of its presence in the same way that Peggy and Grandma Diehl have done … a new home, away from the main ranch, built to our specs. When we first decide that we are moving from the old ranch house to a new house on the hillside, it brings strong protests from our daughters, Paige and Andrea, saying “Unthinkable!” — For they are strong soul ties attached to this old house. To them, the prospect of our leaving The Table and its 66 year residence seems…. sort of like tearing out the apple trees or burning the family Bible.
So while drinking the day’s sunlight, I am reminded of some things unalterable: though my life inherited change and my kitchen moved, it seems that one thing has remained unchanged: The Diehl Table, loved as it is, would stay in its original home, and life would continue with all its new directions. For there are some things meant to be unmoved, and The Table, and all its blemishes, is numbered among them.