AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE

By Donald Ward

At what point does an heirloom lose its intrinsic value and become a piece of junk? This is a question Colleen and I have been asking ourselves ever since Uncle Eddy’s table collapsed for the third time.

Uncle Eddy was the late Edward McCourt, an English professor at the University of Saskatchewan, a distinguished novelist and a dear friend of my parents. There was an informal arrangement between my parents and the McCourts that they would act as godparents to each other’s children should anything happen to them. My parents got the better of the deal, as the McCourts had only one child, whereas my parents had six. Luckily, nothing ever happened to test the agreement.

In the strict Presbyterianism in which my parents were raised, it showed disrespect to address adults by their first names, but it was judged that Edward and Margaret McCourt were close enough to be regarded as family, so they became our honorary uncle and aunt. Uncle Eddy and Aunt Margaret were frequent guests at our house, and it never occurred to me to call them anything else.

Uncle Eddy died fairly young, as I remember, and an antique drop-leaf table came into my parents’ possession as a result. It was a lovely piece of furniture, with two broad leaves and a strong central pillar and four carved legs that spread out like cat’s claws, with brass tips on the ends. It was made of smooth dark maple polished to a sheen, and it was elegantly proportioned and graceful.

It was evident that it had suffered some sort of trauma before we got it, however, for it stood slightly crooked on the floor, about half an inch higher at one end. But it wasn’t enough to spoil its beauty or its usefulness, and it went through many years in my parents’ house as an occasional table, usually stacked with my father’s books and papers,

When the table came to me I turned it upside down to see what made it sit crooked. I found a crude repair job at the base of the pillar, probably undertaken by Uncle Eddy — university professors are not known for their woodworking skills — with hammer and nails. Short of taking the whole thing apart and resetting the legs, there was nothing I could do about it, so it remained as an occasional table at our house, slightly crooked but only slightly less elegant because of it.

When we moved the last time we were forced to put it into storage temporarily, and something happened to it there that caused the pillar to snap in half. They tried to fix it, but, like university professors, the owners of moving and storage companies are not necessarily skilled woodworkers, and the table collapsed again when they brought it to the house. It had broken on the same lines that my Uncle Eddy had tried to fix it years before, and now there was a long scratch along one of the leaves. The storage people managed to evade responsibility for the damage, so we were left with a two-piece table that was useless for anything but looking eccentric.

We had it professionally restored, and the restorer even managed to undo the damage Uncle Eddy had done to it when he first tried to fix it so many years before. It was beautiful. We put the stereo on it, and a reading lamp, and it served us well for years.

Then the other night, at midnight, it slowly collapsed. The stereo fell off and the lamp came unplugged, but otherwise it was an almost graceful event as two of its legs gently detached themselves from the central pillar and lowered themselves to the floor, like a cat lowering itself to its knees. I could almost hear Uncle Eddy muttering in the background, “There it goes again, Margaret. Do you think it’s worth fixing this time?”

I am of two minds. In the meantime, the table sits where it fell, cluttering up an already cluttered living room, while someone musters the energy to take it out to the garage. Its value as an antique has been severely compromised, but its value as an heirloom remains intact.

Maybe we’ll give it one more try.

 
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