About ten years ago, I wrote the following essay in the form of a letter to my dad, but I didn’t deliver it to him. It was really a letter to myself about the things in my home, and writing it, as so often happens, made me see things as they really are and changed my attitude.
The Friendship House
When I first heard you were making a table for me like the one you made for your kitchen, I didn’t know what to say. You’ve been so proud of how you cut those strips of boards and inlaid them so they formed patterns on the octagon-shaped surface. And I knew why you were so proud of crafting something of beauty from scrap wood.
I stripped the old finish off a round oak table long ago, when the boys were young, and I stained it and brushed on 30 coats of polyurethane. I wanted a surface that couldn’t be hurt by milk circles or sticky syrup. The table fit perfectly in my little breakfast area.
And now Mom tells me that you’re making a table for me. But, Dad, I have a table. One that I worked so hard on. One that fits in my little space. And the one you’re making is bigger. It will crowd the room so that the chairs will be closer to the wall.
Mom said you cut your finger on the saw. And you wonder if I know that you’re making the table for me. I know, and I feel like a selfish child who wants her own way. Her own table.
I am not a very materialistic person. There are few things in this house that I picked out myself. On that wall of the kitchen is the spice shelf that Jim made me for our first anniversary thirtysome years ago. Beside it is the cookbook shelf a friend gave me, and the old crock that holds my kitchen gadgets was Uncle Dewey’s long ago. The wall plaque, our neighbor gave me because it’s historical, and she thought I’d like it. The blender on the counter was a wedding present from Max, my old landlord. The base is melted on one side, because it sets too close to the burner, but it still works, and I think of him when I use it.
Jim’s mom made the ceramic butterfly canisters. I broke the coffee one, but the other three still hold flour and sugar and tea. The clown cookie jar is the one Morgan won playing blackout bingo at the school carnival. It plays “Old McDonald Had a Farm” when you lift the lid. The toaster is a four-slicer. One side on the third slice doesn’t work, never did. A friend bought it for a quarter when it was returned to Sears, back when he worked there, back when I was in college. He gave it to me for my apartment. And it still works, except for that one side on the third slice.
The things in this kitchen weren’t picked out by me. They are not color-coordinated. They are mismatched.
The rest of the house is the same way. That one end table with the little drawer was Aunt Punch’s. She kept her phone on it. I think of her every time I set a glass on it. That delicate table belonged to Jim’s grandma. It fell apart so many times that you fixed it, Dad, when you visited here for a couple days. You took it to the woodworking shop and used screws to hold the spindly legs in place so it wouldn’t collapse again and I wouldn’t have to mop a spill off the carpet.
Jim made those other two end tables by the couch. He calls them his prototypes, and he’s going to buy good wood to make some permanent ones, but those have been in place now for many years. I think I married Jim because he was handy like you, Dad.
There’s something odd about this house. Mom says it’s homey, and she feels comfortable here. Once when I had over my new friend, the doctor, I was edgy, wanting to impress her. You know what she did? She kicked her shoes off and put her feet on the couch. She asked if we could have a book club here. And we have, many times.
That afghan on the couch was made by a friend who lives in New Mexico now. She ran out of burgundy yarn, so half is just forest green and white and the other half has the three colors. She said an afghan gives hugs. And she’s right.
You know, Dad, this house is not a mismatched house. I was wrong about that. It’s a friendship house. The furnishings came from people who have touched my life. I think of them every day, when I make toast, when I reach for a cookie, when I’m cold and wrap up in a hug.
And I will think of you, Dad, when I sit at my new table. If he wants it, Morgan can take the one I refinished when he was a boy. He’s moving to a new apartment when he graduates and is desperate for furniture. He’s not a sentimental guy, but that table might remind him of good family times.
I know that the table you’re making for me will shine with love. I can hardly wait to add it to my friendship house. Thank you, Dad, for making me really see my home.