The wire spool table
The table was made out of an old wire spool. We cut the top off, pulled the slats out and made a triangular base from heavy maple. I don’t know how many yards of wire the spool held, but it must have been a lot, because we could fit the eight of us around the table with room to spare for the flying fists and sprawling elbows that marked every meal.
Like most things in our home, there was an artistry and idiocy about the manufacturing of the table. For one, the spool top had a big hole in the middle. For another, the spool was made of soft pine, with wide gaps where the pine panels met, and pock marks, staple stabs and divots from its working days. My dad’s solution was to cut maple inlays, fit them in the grooves and paste everything over with big gobs of plastic wood and wood glue. The effect was a little like an early mosaic, minus the holy image, the flecks of semi-precious stone and the overall artistic intent. We slathered a glossy finish on top.
The fact that we never came up with a solution for the hole in the middle of the table should have been a sign that the rest of our constructive design wasn’t durable. In the first winter, when the wood dried out, the gaps widened and the mixture of wood inlay, wood glue and plastic wood came loose and spilled out onto the floor in grainy clusters, the wire spool expressed its essential nature, trapping all manners of gunk and food crud and liquid residue in the deep cracks.
My father would sit at the table with a dinner knife and excavate the residue that got caught in the cracks. It didn’t matter who was there: visiting priests, family, students, guests, old friends, artists who were at my mom’s life drawing class. There my dad would sit, digging away at the gunk, rolling bits between his finger and stacking them in little piles beside him. They looked like miniature cannonballs in a grade school diorama.
In the morning with the milk jug beside my bowl, I’d eat my cereal and peer in the cracks. The table had begun to splinter. We wouldn’t get another. I promised myself I wouldn’t dig at the gunk. Then I’d take the end of my spoon and pull it along the thread of the crack. The clean wood underneath, glimpsed for a moment, was an irresistable lure.