The Table Traveled Home
Joyce McDonald Hoskins
My father was a good man. He loved children, animals, and the outdoors. He worked hard, as men who grow up in small coal mining towns in West Virginia still do. No job was physically too hard for him. He worked in the coal mines and later in a tire shop. He could lift me onto his shoulders with one hand. As a child, I was convinced he could carry a ton. Shooting a deer and carrying it back to camp was no problem for him. Considered a good marksman by the locals, he usually took first place at turkey shoots. He understood about things like fishing, hunting, and nature.
What Dad couldn’t do was fix things. He wasn’t the kind of dad you carried broken toys to because you knew he could fix anything. He could fix nothing. Nothing. Wiping away my tears to fix my broken heart was about all his big hands could manage.
He also could not make things. My dollhouse was store-bought. He might have said he built my brother a go-cart, but I suspect he paid someone to build it for him, and then slipped it into the garage on Christmas Eve.
No, Dad was not a handyman. He had all of the tools, and he would never admit to being clumsy with them. He would try, but the curtain rods were never straight, and the shelf simply didn’t stay on the wall. Mom finally gave up asking and found someone else to do her handyman stuff.
What I remember most about him was his genuine love for other people. He put others first. Even cancer couldn’t take that away from him.
The last memory I have of my dad is talking to him on the phone from my home in Florida a few days before he lost his battle with the cancer. His last words to me were, “Honey, do you need anything?” Had I answered yes he would have moved heaven and earth to see that I got it.
In 1984, before my plane landed in West Virginia Dad went to be with his heavenly Father. He was 65.
He didn’t leave much in this world: a few guns, some fishing equipment, and Grandma’s butter churn. My brother has the guns, and I have the butter churn. Not much, as the saying goes, to remember him by.
Not that I needed anything to remember him. I’ll never forget the way he grinned and picked me up so I could find the surprise chocolate bar in his jacket pocket. The candy bar was always in the inside pocket, but the game was to look in all of the pockets before it was found. I’ll never forgot traveling home with two children of my own, and how the surprise chocolate bar magically appeared in the inside pocket, again. Who needs something to remember him by when you see his grin on your son’s face? Who needs something to remember him by when you can still picture him driving his red pickup home for lunch, and stopping at the end of the driveway, so I could jump on the running board and ride to the front door? I remembered. After all, I have his worn flannel shirt to snuggle in on a rare cold Florida night.
Still, sometimes I couldn’t help but think that it would be nice to have something that was uniquely his.
Many years after both of my parents were gone, and my own children grown, I renewed a relationship with my cousin. We had been close growing up, but had not seen much of one another for many years. Wrapped up in careers, child rearing, and the busy years when there is never enough time, visiting cousins fell to the wayside.
The phone call to my cousin, Alexis, began as a family matter, and proceeded to making plans to meet half way between our Florida homes. It was agreed we would get together at a mall on a Saturday for lunch.
“See you Saturday,” Alexis said as we were ready to hang up. “Oh, by the way, I have a table that belonged to your dad to bring you.”
“Yes, he made it in shop class when he was in high school. Aunt Mabel had it. She kept everything. I’ll tell you about it Saturday.”
“My dad made a table, and it’s still standing?”
I laughed. “Dad wasn’t very handy. It must be a funny-looking table.”
“No, actually, it’s a nice table.
The following Saturday I heard the story of the table as we ate lunch.
When our fathers attended Shinnston High School in, West Virginia, the boys made tables in shop class. Alexis had asked our Aunt Mabel for one her father had made. She took the table from West Virginia to Florida, where it sat for many years in her apartment. One day while rearranging furniture, she turned the table over and found my dad’s name engraved on the bottom. The next time she visited West Virginia she and her father went to Aunt Mabel’s and found the table that actually belonged to her dad. Aunt Mabel had given her the wrong table.
It would have been a treasure to me even if it had turned out to be a misshaped, wobbly mess, but it turned out to be a well made, sturdy table.
Today the table sits in my office beside my computer. I can picture my dad, a young good looking lad with wavy black hair, and his trademark grin, making a table. The table traveled from his mother’s house, to his sister’s house, to my cousins apartment, to my house. It made its way from West Virginia to Florida, where it rests beside my computer holding my copy paper, notes and the telephone. On days when I am writing and the words come hard, it comforts me by being there.
It will sit beside me as long as I am on this earth, and maybe one day it will travel again.