Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 24, 2018

The old table

Various scenes played out in my head as I sat in the living room with my eyes closed. Dad was in his recliner with a plate of graham crackers and a glass of milk on the table next to him. Mom sat in her recliner with their cat Oreo on her lap. The “Happy Birthday” sign displayed at every family birthday stretched across the opening to the dining room. I could almost hear the hubbub in the kitchen as family members prepared a meal for Easter, Christmas or the Fourth of July.

Reality returned when I opened my eyes. My parents’ home, the headquarters of so many gatherings with family and friends, was now just a shell. The nearly-empty rooms and the quietness were unsettling.

We had taken care of disposing of many things between the time Mom died in February 2016 and when daughter Katie and husband Matt began renting it that summer. Brother Dave, sister Gaila and I were grateful, for it gave us a reprieve from having to immediately deal with the many items Mom and Dad left behind. But with the kids’ departure in June, a decision had to be made. To continue renting meant someone would have to be the landlord, and none of us was eager to handle that chore. The other option, which we eventually settled on, was to sell.

We still had photo albums, furniture, bedding, tools, dishes, cleaning supplies, old books and more to deal with. I felt almost paralyzed about where to start.

But husband Art took the bull by the horns, negotiating a deal with a real estate agent. We siblings sprang into action, taking things we wanted and directing our kids to do the same.

Nephew Paul and his wife Rachel came one Sunday with a U-Haul and packed it “to the gills” with some of the family antiques: a china cabinet that was home to the folks’ California Ivy and Fostoria dishes, a settee/rocker/chair set of Grandpa and Grandma Mostrom’s, Dad’s wood-handled screw drivers, and violins Mom’s Uncle John Carlberg had played. They also took the “Bob’s Candies Popcorn Salt Water Taffy” sign Grandpa Robert Freeland had used when he and his family had a candy stand during the Depression. It did our hearts good knowing those items went to a home where they’ll be loved.

Gaila and I asked their three kids to form an assembly line to help us move the folks’ 50-plus photo albums from file cabinets in the basement, up the steps and into boxes in the trunk of my car. They are now on shelves in our family room until I have time to go through them.

I also stored dishes Katie had selected earlier. Daughter Mariya claimed a mirror and one of Mom’s paintings. Niece Gabriela’s boyfriend Bernie really likes “Mars Attacks,” the movie that was partially filmed in our hometown of Burns, Kansas and includes a two-second scene with Dad. So Gaila took Bernie the movie scrapbook Mom had put together.

Dave came later, hauling away the metal garage shelves Art had disassembled, the wicker rocker that had been Grandpa and Grandma Mostrom’s, and Mom’s commercial art books from the 1950s and 1960s. Dave’s son Michael, now a graphic artist, was thrilled to get that collection.

In between, Gaila and I made trips to Goodwill with household items and to the animal shelter with old bedding and pillows.

I was pleased we had found homes for so many items, but much remained - an old sofa sleeper, two trunks, a bedroom suite, paint, old ceiling and floor tiles, and miscellaneous tables. I commented to friend Deb that I thought things were “having babies” in the house. She empathized because she had to dispose of her parents’ belongings. Her advice: “Just take one step at a time!”

But what was the next step? The real estate agent took the house “as is,” meaning he would dispose of anything that was left. But I still wanted to find homes for what remained.

Then I thought of friends Davey and Susan. They often have garage sales for things they have acquired. When I took them through the house and garage, they spotted some items they could use and said they would try to sell the rest.

Hallelujah! What a relief!

But that emotion was short-lived and quickly replaced by another when I noticed the table in the corner of the garage. The white enamel top with red accents was in pretty good shape, but the metal legs were rusted. And the pull-out leaves and lone drawer were stuck in place from the work of generations of mud daubers. The table once served our family in the kitchen of our first farm when we kids were kids. But when we moved to the home my grandparents had lived in, the table was relegated to a farm shed. In more recent times, Mom used it to store her flower pots and gardening supplies. Realistically, it was just a table and was never worth much. Most people would consider it to be junk.

But suddenly my eyes filled with tears. That table reminded me of its owners. My parents bought it when they were just beginning a life together. Like them, it wasn’t fancy, but practical. And as time passed, wear and tear took a toll on both. It went from being an every-day participant in our family life to a supporting role, much as Dad and Mom would become supporting players, first in their children's lives and then their grandchildren's lives.

The folks are gone, but will still be in our lives through the memories of time spent together and the small items claimed by each of us.

And the table? Well, it now makes me smile. When I began thinking about what it had witnessed of my family's days together, the somewhat trite phrase "if that table could talk, what tales it could tell" kept coming to mind. Later, talking with Davey, I was surprised to learn it had "spoken" to them. So it, too, has found a new home.

Top-left: the table when it was new held some of Gaila's (right) and my Christmas gifts one year while we were youngsters on our first farm; bottom-left: Rachel and Paul with some of the treasures they adopted; right: Susan and Davey opened their home to our now-old table.

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