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Sarah T. Schwab: Table serves up new memories

A favorite childhood activity of mine was soaking in a warm bath, staring up at the ceiling in my Eden home. I would find hidden pictures in the wood’s knots: a mother duck with babies in tow, a fox chasing a rabbit, a couple sharing a first kiss. The stories within these planks brought me comfort, even into adulthood.

After living in Manhattan for six years, (25 years for my boyfriend), Brian and I decided it was time to buy a house in the country, specifically the Pocono Mountains. We moved this past February. Since both of us still work in the city, we also rent a small place on the Upper West Side, our pied-à-terre.

“The best of both worlds,” my friends say. I have to agree; I have never been happier.

As we quickly learned, buying a house is no cheap feat. We were able to finance a few necessities – couch, chair, desks – but were unable to swing others, the main one being: a dining table.

Some told me to buy a cheap one, “until we could save up for something nice.” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. To me, a dining table is something special. It is the place where people come together to share a bit themselves: their food, thoughts, laughter, tears …

I think about the kitchen table in my childhood home.

Bought at an antique shop, the four-person, claw-legged circular table is the place where my father and I decorated hundreds of my mother’s homemade Christmas cookies, the place where the three of us ate dinner, watched the evening news and talked about our day; the place where I did my homework, played cards, got grounded and filled out college applications. It is the place I was sitting when my father found the marble-size lump on the side of his neck, and later, the place where my mother and I wrote the eulogy for his funeral.

My first dining table could not be some Ikea purchase. It had to be something with character, a story. And it needed to fit at least 10 people. The reason being: Brian and I want to open our home to city artists in need of a retreat.

After researching online, I found that table prices ranged from $2,000 to $4,000. This doesn’t include chairs.

I was at a loss; carpet picnics weren’t that bad … were they?

When Uncle Rob Matteson, my mother’s brother, offered to make me a table, I was speechless and absolutely grateful.

Uncle Rob is the great artist of the family. Whether he is sketching, remodeling homes or chainsaw carving, he has an eye for detail and a leaning toward beauty. When I spoke with him about what I wanted, he said he had a friend with cherry wood planks that had been salvaged from an old barn. With these, he would build my table.

A month went by, and when the table – 3½ feet by 8 feet by 31 inches – was assembled and stained, my mother and her boyfriend Mark rented a cargo van and drove it to the Poconos. That night for dinner, Mom cooked up a batch of her famous Buffalo chicken wings, and the four of us shared our first meal together.

My office is on the second floor of the house, but I often find myself working at my uncle’s table. Maybe it is the smell of the wood, or all that space to sprawl my papers and books, but I am pulled there, running my palm over the smoothed knots, looking forward to the stories that will be written in that place.