Archived Opinion

Filling up a room with more than a table

By Sarah Kucharski

Sunlight streams in our house’s south facing windows. The rays bring out the color in the Kiatt wood that makes up the top of the new table sitting in our dining room.

The tabletop is made of five boards, sanded smooth as glass. The South African wood’s warm chocolate brown grain sets off its natural blood red streaks and iridescent curl.

The table legs are made of wormy Maple harvested from trees cut from the grounds of Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church near Lake Junaluska. Silvery gray streaks mark trails dotted with tiny wormholes in the blond wood.

And set in as accents designed to resemble the peg construction of the Arts and Crafts period are slick Ebony squares, so dark as to cause one to check their fingers for soot after touching them.

My husband and I are not yet allowed to take our meals on this table, its finish still too new. So instead, each time we pass through the dining room in our goings about the house we lovingly run our hand over its surface, like petting a giant, sleeping dog.

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Indeed, this table is now a member of the family. My father-in-law — Jim Bumgardner, whom upon retiring from BellSouth capitalized on his woodworking hobby through the Haywood Community College Professional Crafts Program and was juried in to the Southern Highlands Craft Guild — custom designed and built this table for us. Set with my mother-in-law’s hand-woven linens — she too is a graduate of the HCC Crafts Program and member of the Southern Highlands Guild — the table is destined to bear generations of holiday meals, bill paying and board games, morning cups of coffee alongside the newspaper, travel planning, puzzle-working, post-dinner political debate and all the things a good dining room table is supposed to support.

Never may it become one of those sad, unfortunate dining room tables sequestered in a darkened room where plastic covers the seat cushions and silver lies untouched and tarnishing in china hutch drawers. Nor shall it become like its overburdened brethren buried in a mass of offloaded things and its ability to bring a family together forgotten.

Nay, we must and we will — use it.

Which terrifies me.

I have visions .... visions of Elmer’s glue and glitter, of hot casseroles set down without a trivet, of crazy cats with sharp claws and dumb dogs with bored teeth, of hikers with pocketknives looking for a place to proclaim their love, of fire and termites and meteorites and locusts.

My family, ah yes, we are the ones who take such painstakingly good care of our belongings that it borders on neurotic. When my parents got their first real dining room table — one that involved a glass top and solid wood with brass locks to hold the not one, but two leaves in place rather than the veneered number that pre-dated my birth — my father would use the DustBuster to suction up the tiny crumbs that fell in the crevice between the glass inset and the wood edges. He and mom were less than pleased when I learned that as our dog Trixie lay underneath the table at dinnertime I could hold bites of baked potato or steak above her head, her eyes looking pleadingly upward through the glass, and drop the morsel — plop! — onto the glass as her jaws eagerly snapped shut devoid of the anticipated treat. It was mean, I know, but Trixie was the closest thing I had resembling a sibling. Luckily, she never seemed to mind wearing a tutu and having her nails painted.

But my parents’ charmingly anal-retentive ways have been passed on down the line, and as a young homeowner I have my own DustBuster, though I think that perhaps this new table is a job best left to Swiffer and a yearly application of Johnson’s Paste Wax.

The lingering problem is finding a way to say thank you to my father-in-law. How does one even begin to express their gratitude for a one-of-a-kind creation, given, as is his style, with no bravado just a smile? My husband chimed in with the suggestion of “abject groveling,” though also has agreed to help his father remodel their kitchen. And I, though apt at demolition, have little to offer by way of talent when it comes to construction and must turn to things such as cooking and writing newspaper columns. So thank you, Jim. Thank you for filling this big empty room in my house with your heart.

(Sarah Kucharski is a staff writer for The Smoky Mountain News. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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