Grandma's Table - Passing on a Family Memory.
Pass it on!
I gave my Grandmother's table away today!
Or rather, I gave it to my Son.
I helped him load it into his truck, and he drove away with it!
My wife and I had used the old table since I was 22 years old, when my Dad refinished it and gave it to me.
There's more of a story to that old worn, stained and faded table than this, so I need to start at the beginning, I guess.
Starting with the Bobbitt Famly.
So, let's go back.
My grandparents names were David and Tiny Bobbitt. Grandpa was normal height for his time, about five foot six or so. But my Grandma was a little woman, around five foot one, that everyone called her Tiny.
They got married in 1907, in the Gretna area of Virginia, "up 40" as everyone used to say, where they originally set up housekeeping.
The name Bobbitt, although relatively rare in the US overall, was a familiar name in that area of Pittsylvania County. My family goes back to 1645 when William Bobbitt and his new wife came to America and settled onto their 90 acre land grant, from the King of England.
The family kept a foothold in the same area of Virginia and some relatives still reside there today.
In fact, there's is even an old Church, in the middle of nowhere, "up 40", from Altavista where several generations of Bobbitt's worshiped.
That Church has a very old, and dilapidated (the last time I saw it), graveyard and it contains numerous tombstones inscribed with one Bobbitt or another's name.
I would estimate that at least 20% of the graves we could find were Bobbitt's back when my Dad took me there in my childhood.
He never said why, but one day Dad just put me in his car and took me up there, back when I was around ten or so. The memories are a little vague, but we walked around, with Dad pointing to tombstones and telling me stories little stories about the person buried there, things like; "That's your great great uncle Robert", and "That tall one under the tree? It's your great great uncle William and his family", and more.
Dad went on with his memories, as we walked through the graveyard, and I tried to look interested, but it was just a field of stones to me back then.
Anyway, as I said, Grandma and Grandpa got married in 1907, and Dad told me that they bought their Dining table, along with most of their furniture, second-hand; which wasn't uncommon back then.
The table itself was a pretty simple yet sturdy piece of furniture, with the two ends made to slide open so that sections could be added to seat more people..
The table was made of Black Walnut, with four main legs, a couple of fold out center legs, and, the best part, like I said, was that it could be pulled out, so that extra leaves could be added to seat more people.
They must have been planning ahead, even then, because they eventually had ten children ..... that lived.
Grandpa and Grandma lived a good life, but it was a hard life, which was pretty common for poor people during the depression era.
He was a Tenant Farmer for years, on a farm near the town of Rustburg, and he worked that farm up until he and Grandma had raised their children and he had just worked his body to it's limits. Luckily for them they had saved enough to retire to a small cottage inLynchburg.
They were always fed and clothed, but like so many families back then, there never was a lot of money to go around, when Dad and the other kids were growing up.
As Dad would tell me; We didn't have much, but we ate good, and we were all Happy! .... You can't ask for much more than that!
When I was little, Dad would tell me stories about when he was a little boy, on the farm and they were always happy stories. It was obvious that; he loved riding the farm mule up to Rustburg for supplies, he loved swimming in the pond at the back of the property, he loved caring for the animals. He just loved the farm life.
Oh, as with so many farm children, Dad went to the school in town until he finished the sixth grade. Like so many children of the depression era, he told me that he never went back to school after that year, because Grandpa needed him to help on the farm.
It is kind of funny isn't it?
Now they call it Child Labor, and there are people who indignantly protest against it happening to children.
Then? It was called being Poor, in the Depression era, and everyone's kids worked if they could. Just to eat.
I have a picture somewhere of Dad sitting up on the Mule that Grandpa used to plow the fields on the farm. He looked like a little Monkey sitting up on top of that damned enormous Mule.
Dad told me the Mules name, which of course I've forgotten, and he said that it was the meanest Mule he ever saw; but he loved riding it.
Another funny thing that Dad told me was that sometimes Grandma would send him up to the store in Rustburg.
Now the store in Rustburg was several miles from the farm, so it wasn't like sending someone in a City, down the street to a store. It was something of a chore, to take that much time away from the farm, just to pick up something from the store.
But there would be times that she would send him to pick up certain basic things she needed. Dad said that she knew that he loved riding that old Mule, so she would always tell him to take the Mule!
Sounds like today with the family car doesn't it? You know; Son, take the car and go get me a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread.
But, it seems that the only things Dad ever mentioned having to go get for Grandma was; a bag of Flour, a side of Bacon, or almost always, some Roses Snuff.
Yep, Roses Snuff. Grandma was hooked on it, and she dipped that Roses Snuff every day until the day she died.
And when she ran out ..... somebody had to take care of the situation and Right Away!
Even Grandpa didn't argue ......
Like I said, they just called her Tiny, and as Dad used to say "She was only small in stature, cause she could be a really hard woman when she set her mind to something".
He said that: When she got riled up, we kids made ourselves scarce, cause you didn't want to be close when she blew!
But back to Grandma and Grandpa and their family. They fed all those Kids and the occasional neighbor at that table, right on up to WWII.
Memories in the Wood! Family and Friends
You see, as I said, it was the Depression era, and you helped your neighbors when they were down, and according to Grandpa:
Over those tough years, everyone held out a helping hand to their neighbor when he was in need. Mostly because it was the God-Fearing, Christian thing to do.
But, he would wink and add; Also,You never knew when it was going to be your turn to need a little help! Maybe even next year!
When I think about that old table, I can just imagine the conversations between my uncles; Jesse, Ollie, Jack, Dad and Obed, as they tried to out-talk my Aunts; Annie, Ionne, Emma, Mary and Billie. With al of them sitting around that big table, running their mouths at the same time.
I remember, in later years that they were all such good people, and all with their own unique personality.
Jesse was the funniest, he was always there with a joke or story, usually one that let him make fun of himself.
Jack, he just loved to laugh. Even if you told a bad joke, he would laugh his ass off, Dad would say.
Ollie, well Ollie was usually telling some far-fetched tale of what he had done that day, or he was deep in thought about what kind of trouble he was going to get into the next day.
Dad said: Ollie got more whippings for going fishing, or whatever, instead of doing his chores, than all of the rest of us kids combined
Obed, being the youngest boy, was always studying, according to Dad, and could quote anything to you from his books.
Dad said: We all knew he was going to be something when he grew up. It ended up that he was the only one to get a College degree, and he ended up a noted scientist, working many years with NASA at Cape Canaveral on the Space projects. He even had some patents to his name.
And Dad, of course, according to him, he was the one who reigned over them all! He was the smartest, the brightest, etc, etc ,etc. Dad could brag a little, given a chance.
Now, just picture this.
There were the Boys, along with a group of five girls with just as varied and as singular a set of personalities as you could find, all going at it, as Grandma prepared the meals, with the girls help, of course.
And I mean meals that were made from what they grew, stored and canned themselves.
According to Dad this included;
Potatoes that they grew and stored in the cellar.
Ham or Bacon, or Sausage that they put up from Hogs they raised and slaughtered themselves.
Eggs from their Chickens, and the Chickens themselves, baked, fried, broiled, whatever, covered with gravy.
Canned Green Beans, Tomatoes, Lima Beans, Butter Beans, Black-Eyed Peas, and Corn.
Corn Bread with dinner and Biscuits with breakfast, served hot and dripping butter.
Milk, Butter and Buttermilk from their Cows.
And for Desserts, Apple Cobbler, Peach Cobbler, Fruit Preserves, Apple Butter, Molasses, and Cakes, as well as Sweet Potatoes, Blackberries, Blueberries, and Strawberries, picked fresh when in season.
Dad said, We worked Hard all Summer on that farm, and we Ate Good all Winter! The way it should be!
I don't know how they all lived into their Eighties? ..... RIGHT!
And by the way, I should mention that Grandma was a serious Christian woman!
There was always a daily Bible reading at that table and all of the Kids WOULD sit and listen to her read "the scriptures".
There would be no talking, no playing around, just ten pious kids, sitting very still until she finished her daily reading and said Amen!
Dad said: If you moved or even made a face at one of the others, while Grandma read from the Bible, there would be Hell to Pay! A good whipping and a long list of extra chores to do until she felt that the Lord had forgiven you!
What a joyous life they must have lived at that table. Eating, talking, joking with each other. Grandma and the girls sitting around; sewing and making quilts. Just family togetherness, like it once was.
I can see Grandpa and the boys, all coming in from their chores, washing all of that ground in dirt and hard-earned sweat from their hands and faces, laughing and joking as they smelled the food cooking away in the kitchen, and, of course, the fresh baked biscuits.
Then, when Grandma called, all of them sitting down around that table, quietly, and hungrily, waiting for the Bible reading to start.
According to Dad, when Grandma said Amen, they all jumped up and started 'setting the table" and serving of the food. Imagine how fast those ten hungry kids moved to get that chore done?
Then, one more quick blessing of the food and finally, everyone got down to the actual eating of all of those hearty dishes of food that was grown by your own hands, and prepared with all that Love.
That table saw a lot, and probably took a lot of punishment during those meals.
Old Furniture Restoration
Time Moves On!
Well, as idyllic as that time was in their lives, all of those ten kids eventually grew up.
And, according to Dad, as the kids grew up and moved away, Grandma and Grandpa would just remove a leaf from the table and make the table itself, just a little bit smaller.
This went on until one day, there was just themselves, with a big farm that they couldn't work anymore, sitting at that shrunken table. They had given life their best, as long as they could, and raised ten good kids, but it was time for them to retire.
They looked around the area, and finally found a nice small four-room bungalow on Craig Street in Lynchburg, with a reasonable rent.
They ended up renting that Bungalow house, and they lived there until they both died in their late seventies.
Well, when they moved into that house, for some reason, Grandpa bought one of those new Kitchen tables you see so many of, from that period. You know four metal legs, a vinyl top with an ugly pattern, and an aluminum rim around the edge.
It came with four metal chairs, also with vinyl padded seats.
Some tasteless Bastard made millions of those table and chair sets, in the late Thirties on up into the Fifties, and you can still trip over them in almost any Dump or yard sale.
Well, once he purchased that ugly table and chairs, Grandpa took that old table, that had served the family so well, for a generation, out to his shed. He dismantled the table, and wrapped it in old bailing wire and threw it under the shed, where it stayed for years, until Dad pulled it out of the dark, to give it a new life.
Salvation of the Table
Well, as a kid,we lived up near the top of Craig Street, only a block from my Grandparents house, until they died. I dimly remember that was around the time I was eight or nine years old.
Grandpa died first, at the age of 76 from a stroke. Grandma was still active for a couple of years and the, she died from a heart condition, I'm not sure what it was.
One of the things that I remember from when she died; Dad along his brothers and sisters each took a favorite piece of furniture home with them. They were all simple pieces of furniture and had no real value other than sentimental to some of them back then.
Not long after their deaths, Dad had me walk down to the old house one day and help him with a task.
We crawled under the shed behind the house and pulled a dusty spider-covered bundle of old warped, gray, wooden planks from under the shed.
I remember they were held together in a bundle with some rusty wire. The two of us hauled the bundle up to our house and Dad placed the bundle in the back room where he stored the wood he used to make pieces of furniture.
I never thought about that bundle of old planks until years later when I was married and raising a family of my own. By this time, Dad and Mom were then living in the house that he and my uncle Jesse had built, down Rt-501, down towards Rustburg.
And my wife and I lived about twenty-five miles away in Amherst County, but we had driven down to on a particularly pretty Sunday, one Fall day, to visit.
And as I usually did, once Helen and our kids were settle in and "visiting" with Mom, I drifted down to Dad's workshop to see what his latest woodworking project happened to be.
When I walked around the corner of the shop, I saw Dad.
He had tied some big rocks to a bundle of old warped planks, and was dragging them over to the pond in the back yard.
He yelled for me to come over and help, so I walked up and helped him throw this nasty bundle of ropes, rusty wires, rocks and warped planks into the pond.
Naturally, curiosity got the best of me and I asked him what he was doing.
Dad, just smiled and started walking back to his workshop.
I asked again, and he turned to me saying; "Have you ever seen my Mom and Dad's dining table before?"
I thought a moment and shaking my head I told him, the table I remembered was that old ugly metal and vinyl set that they had in their kitchen on Craig Street.
Well, Dad smiled again, and sat down next to that old wood stove he kept a fire going in, mostly to burn wood scraps, and told me the story about the old table that he had grown up eating on.
He pointed and said; That old bundle of planks you just helped me toss into the pond is what's left of the dining table Mom and Dad used for most of their lives together.
Concerned, I asked Dad: If the table is that special, what the Hell did you just throw it into the pond for.
Dad always laughed when I exhibited my lack of wood-working knowledge and this time was no exception, he told me; Well Son, come on back back in six months or so and I'll show you how to rebuild an old piece of furniture".
Re-Birth of a Family Heirloom
Well, I pretty much forgot about that table, until the next spring.
Again Helen and I were visiting with Mom and Dad again, and I went into the Kitchen to get a Soda. There, in the Dining area was an Antique-looking table with a pot of flowers sitting on it.
I didn't recognize it, so I went into the Den and asked Dad, if he had bought another Antique and refinished it.
He smiled, got up from the sofa, and walked into the Dining area with me.
He then asked me how I liked it, and I told him it looked pretty good, but it also looked like it had been beat up a little.
Dad laughed and said, Yeah, I guess it had taken a little punishment!
Then told me that this was that old bundle of planks that I had helped him throw into the pond last Fall.
He had soaked those planks in the pond until the became water-logged. After about four months he had pulled the bundle from the pond and put each individual water-soaked plank in wood-clamps and slowly bent each one until it was perfectly straight and flat.
Dad said that so many pieces were either missing or eaten up by termites, that the old giant Dining table he had grown up eating on, was now a small oval table with just the four corner legs.
He told me; "It aint much of what it was, but it is a good solid dining table." and then he just looked at me, smiling quietly. There was a silence for a while, as I thought about what he had told me, and finally Dad spoke again:
Don, You're the oldest and I want you to have this old table. I know it aint much, but I want you to raise your kids eating on it.
I was stunned, but of course, I immediately said YES!. Helen and I took the table home with us, that very day and placed it in the dining area of our house..
It was Family!
Passing it on!
We kept that table in our house for years.
Our kids ate on it, they spilled and smeared their share of food, marked it with their crayons and pencils, and even beat on it a few times, before I stopped them. They shared life on that table over their early years.
Even after they all moved out, and we relocated to North Carolina, Helen and I kept that table and the two of us ate at it every day.
it ws a sorry looking thing when you first put eyes on it. In places, the actual Walnut color of some planks has faded to a light brown shade. But, the grain of the walnut still stood out, as if daring you to try to rub it away. From the day Dad re-built that table, the legs stood as steady and firmly straight as the day Grandma and Grandpa purchased that table, used, in 1907.
My Son is taking the table home today.
I just hope he can build as many memories with his family sitting at that table as my Grandma and Grandpa did, ....... and as Helen and I did!
It is the memories that count ..... not the things!
And I believe that this thing, this old, faded, worn, table that is only a shadow of what it once was, can hold a few more generations of Bobbitt memories.
Enjoy it! ....... Son!
Do It Yourself Furniture Restoration
© 2009 Don Bobbitt