My Love Affair with an Old Oak Table by Frances Cohen

My mother Frances Cohen (Z”L) wrote this story for her writing group in Coburg Village, Rexford around 2007.. It is included in the book she and I co-wrote,Fradel’s Story, available on Amazon.

For over fifty years, I’ve had a love affair with my old oak dining room table. Everyone prizes something more in his or her home than others do, and for me it is a 100-year-old piece of furniture.

Our family had recently moved to Keeseville from a tiny house in Potsdam, New York that had little furniture. One day, a customer shopping in our store told us that their parents were giving up their home on the farm and were moving in with them. They asked if we knew anyone who would be interested in buying their parents’ old oak table and chairs.

Bill and I told them that we would love to look at the dining room set. We fell in love with it the minute we saw it. The table was over fifty years old, but it was in good shape, had beautiful lion claws at the end of the legs, and would fit perfectly into the dining room of our old Victorian house. It could seat six, but when the four oak extension leaves were added, there was even more to love! We paid ten dollars for the table and five dollars for each of the six chairs. As soon as the table arrived in our home, it became part of the family.

If the table could talk, it would talk all about the wonderful times it shared with the Cohen family. Birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Passover—all were celebrated around the oak table.

The table would also say that it felt elegant when it was dressed up in a beautiful damask tablecloth and matching napkins, and when the food was served on Bavarian china with sparking silverware and the drinks were served in stem glassware.

Even at more casual times, the table was always laden with tons of food. When anyone asks me if I was a good cook, I always said, “I’m not a gourmet cook. I just cook quantity!” With four growing children, a hungry husband, and lots of company, I had no choice. And the oak table always supported my spreads.

The table was not only for dining. The children preferred doing their homework on the table instead of the desks in their rooms. Sundays through Thursday nights during the school year, the table was buried in schoolbooks and papers. The table was also used as a game table. The children played card games like Fish, War, and Old Maid and board games like Monopoly and Scrabble. They put together 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles and set up toy soldiers in formation on its surface. On rainy days, a double sheet draped over the top turned the table into a tent, a stagecoach, or a playhouse. Bill and I played bridge and card games with couples. Several timesa year, Bill served as host for his poker game. The dining room was filled with smoke as the men drank soda and beer and snacked on Brach bridge mix and peanuts.

Our four children still talk about the birthday parties they celebrated with friends around the oak table. The menu was always the same: hot dogs and rolls, Heinz vegetarian beans, and potato chips for the meal, followed by a homemade birthday cake. The birthday child always got to help bake the cake from scratch or as the years went by, from a mix. Then the child helped frost the cake with confectionary sugar frosting and decorate it with the candies that came on a cardboard sheet that spelled out Happy Birthday and held the candles.

The table had its problems. One day there was a huge crash in the dining room. The old chandelier that hung above the table fell into the middle of the table. We were thankful that no one was hurt and that the table escaped with just a couple more scratches. Within a couple of days, the chandelier was replaced, and the table was back in service.

Time passed, and the table became the gathering place for celebrations of high school and college graduations and engagement parties. The children moved away, and we began spending more time in our cottage on Lake Champlain. In 1982, with retirement looming, we decided to sell the house in Keeseville and split our time between the cottage and Florida. We sold most of our furniture, but the oak table moved with us to the cottage. It fit beautifully in the large dining area. In the summer of 1983, we celebrated our retirement with a party of over fifty people. We set out tables and chairs on the lawn, but everyone came into the cottage for the buffet that was set up on our precious oak table.

Time passed, and grandchildren came to spend time at the cottage. The oak table again became the play table, as they loved to paint, color, and play games on the table.

By the year 2000, Bill and I were in our eighties, and we realized it was getting too much for us to maintain the cottage and decided to spend all our time in Florida. We were delighted when our son Jay and daughter-in-law Leslie opted to buy the cottage and keep it in the family. We could not make it up to the cottage for two summers. When we moved into Coburg Village in 2006, however, we finally had the opportunity to go up to the camp. When we visited, we realized that another generation is now enjoying the table. The top is a bit more worn and scratched, but the lion paws still shine and look like new. And so, our family’s romance with the one-hundred-year-old table continues.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

3 thoughts on “My Love Affair with an Old Oak Table by Frances Cohen

  1. Marty Helfand

    I too have shared time at the dining room table and was gifted an apron for my very own and added to a wonderful family my first visit there with them, it was another 5 months that I was asked by Eli to marry him and be a welcome part of his family and I told him later after the surprise question I already was part of his feed family, Fradel told me so much nd I still have the apron, well used with love, Marty

    Reply

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