On a mid-summer, warm, yellow day, we moved the heavy, wooden, dining room furniture – a china cabinet with upper glass doors and bottom cupboard storage; a free-standing counter my mom calls ‘the buffet’; and the large, double-leaf family table – into the attached garage of the then peeling, pale-lemon sided, built-in-1981-but-not-yet-renovated, bungalow. I was on another extended visit at my parents’ farm, surrounded by slightly rolling prairie-parkland, home for summer holidays. Both teachers, mom and I had decided we had time that year to refresh the old set. With white dust-masks strapped to our faces, the elastic against our cheeks, we applied a turpentine substance to the chipped, worn, grey-tan surfaces. The potent odor permeated our masks as we painted it on quickly, waiting for it to bubble the old paint before we could scrape off the strange color choice from the 60s.
Several decades ago, these pieces were featured in my maternal grandparents’ dining room, where my brother and I sometimes whiled away long summer afternoons in the cool of the house with Monopoly competitions and multiple games-of-Life. Just across that grassy farmyard where we lived, my grandparents’ house seemed full of curious things. In addition to a quiet place for board games, that old house where my mom grew up was like a museum to us. My grandparents had partially moved to the city, but sometimes came back to the farm for a few days during seeding or harvest times and so everything was left as if they just went to town for the day, everything ‘in its place’. I don’t recall asking permission to explore the house: looking in kitchen drawers and cupboards for stale snacks; finding interesting trinkets in our mom’s and, especially, our aunt’s childhood bedrooms; sneaking rancid, salted peanuts from the red-glass pedestal bowl on the buffet; stealing into the master bedroom to touch the golden, tasseled bed covers; smelling the hard, cracked ivory soap in the bathroom next to the light pink tub; or, like mice, picking off hardened icing from my parents’ styrofoam-tiered, keepsake wedding cake. To me, the dining room seemed to be the center of that museum-house. Its table was much more formal than the chrome, kitchen one, and had an air about it that seemed reserved for special, family occasions – Christian feast meals like Christmas and Easter. We played there anyway, but often I sort of tip-toed through that room, hushed and reverent. Maybe it was because of the way the furniture seemed to sit so patiently, the chair seats padded with horse hair and covered with metallic-flecked, fading, magenta fabric, waiting for the next big family gathering.
That house didn’t host any more of those holiday moments, but, when my parents moved us across the province to another farm, this one a mile from where my dad grew up, they brought that dining room set along. At that table, throughout my teenaged years, we ate supper together nearly everyday, the horse hair eventually wearing through the material and poking all six of us in the legs until the chairs were forced to retire, by order of my mom. However, she couldn’t bring herself to throw them away. For years they hid in crooks and corners of the bungalow, long after we sanded and refinished the larger pieces in the cement floor garage. Eventually, I worked out a scheme to refurbish the chairs and re-instate them to their rightful places. Only five of the six were found, the chair with arms (meant for the head of the table) had disappeared into the crevices, broken and lost, but not forgotten. The re-claimed five became a Christmas gift for my parents, a secret we covered with blankets, instead of wrapping, and placed near the long-needled pine tree with colored lights. Restored and mostly together again, re-storied each time we sit around the table for special family moments, playing cards, sharing food, squeezing in more and more of us on motley chairs mixed with the freshened originals, that dining room set re-centers us, for there, together, we are home.