Creating memories with neighbours
I was introduced to The Table in May of 1991. Our family had just moved to Nova Scotia, and at the end of a “welcome-to-town” shower, a young man approached us, wondering whether we’d like to take care of his large antique table. His family was moving across the country and couldn’t take it with them.
We readily agreed. My husband had earlier joked that he’d always wanted “one of those big, country-style dining room tables you can fit a gazillion people around.” Little did we know how this stately piece of furniture would influence our home.
The Table was a beautiful mahogany, eight feet long and four feet wide, sitting on two majestic pedestals. It fit the dining room of our cozy side-by-side like it had been custom made.
The first thing we did was cover The Table. We didn’t want to risk damaging it in any way. I bought a plastic tablecloth, and then another, hoping two layers would be enough protection. This table was going to be used.
Growing a ministry
We didn’t know anyone in Nova Scotia, but it wasn’t long before The Table became a gathering place. We had two young children, ages two and four. It seemed almost everyone else on our little stretch of road did as well. Every evening, parents would gather on the street and converse while our children played together under our watchful eyes.
That first summer, I held a week-long kids club in our backyard with games, songs, snacks and stories. It was a hit.
Thinking about how this could be carried on, I went inside to survey our space. Could 20 children fit in our small living room? My eyes wandered over to The Table in the adjoining dining room.
I envisioned dozens of eager little hands cutting, pasting and drawing. Perfect! The resulting clubhouse was filled every Thursday after school.
This was just the beginning of “The Table Ministry.” We were always on the lookout for folks we could invite to join us around The Table.
Room for another
I come from a large family, so special occasions like birthdays, Christmas and Thanksgiving just don’t feel like a celebration unless many are gathered. The Table always reminded us there was room for another. It didn’t seem to be content until every chair was filled.
We never had a separate children’s table. To have people of every age gathered around one table made us feel like one big family.
When our daughter started school, we invited her teacher to join us for lunch. Her teacher was thrilled with the invitation – no student had ever invited her before. That delightful lunch was the first of many with the teachers at Millwood Elementary. The tradition carried on for as long as our children attended that school.
About two years into our connection with The Table, we received a letter from The Table’s previous family. They were not coming back: The Table was ours to keep. There was no expectation of payment. Our desire was to extend the generosity we had received. We danced around The Table with delight and gratitude.
Now, it was ours and could be fully enjoyed. Our daughter’s teacher had peeked under the tablecloth and admired the beautiful wood, exclaiming, “It’s a shame to keep it covered.” We were taking great care to return this gift in the same condition we received it, I explained at the time. No longer having to worry about ruining someone else’s property, we uncovered it.
It was like the unveiling of a bride on her wedding day. For my birthday, my husband had a custom glass top made for The Table. There was no more need for tablecloths.
Soon after, we moved into a larger house. The main house-hunting criterion was an open-concept dining area where The Table would fit. Again, The Table became the heart of our home. It was the gathering place for afterschool chats, homework, gingerbread decorating and sushi-making parties. Colleagues became friends as they gathered around The Table monthly for lunch. Sunday dinner collected young adults until no elbow room remained, after which The Table hosted a rousing game.
I thought our relationship with The Table would never end. I envisioned children and spouses and grandchildren all gathered around it.
But life took an unexpected turn. I found myself needing to sell our house and belongings with no permanent home on the horizon. The question that came from almost everyone who had spent time in our home was “What are you going to do with The Table?” Each had fond memories of times around The Table. I hadn’t realized how far-reaching its impact had been.
Reluctantly, I put The Table up for sale.
It was hard to put a price on it. I felt uneasy; the ministry of The Table was meant to continue, if not in our home, then in someone else’s. Its new owner must hear The Table’s gentle voice urging, “There’s still room for more.”
After three weeks of running the ad with not one reply, I breathed a sigh of relief and took it down.
That afternoon, I ran into a friend and shared my dilemma concerning The Table. She knew first-hand the way it drew people together. “I had just voiced my desire for a table that could seat our whole family and the many guests we often feed,” she exclaimed. “I would love to care for your table until such time that one of your children should ask for it.”
This was the perfect answer to my prayer.
I had expected to feel sadness when I said goodbye to The Table, but as my friend spoke of her plans for an upcoming gathering, it felt so right. Freely I had received, freely I would give. This is how it was meant to be – another home, another family, another chapter in extending The Table.
Kathleen Francis is author of a series, Conversations with Monuments, available through Kindred Productions and www.conversationswithmonuments.com. The welcoming group in this story was Cornerstone MB Church, Dartmouth, N.S., as the Gateway church plant in Lower Sackville, N.S., began.