The traveling table in our family for over 50 years. 4 households embracing the lives of 13 children and the saga of many lives changed and challenged.
The need to tell the tales was brought home to me recently when a high school friend, Phillis Crawford-Dickey, contacted me about our upcoming high school reunion and stated that she “wished we could sit down together and have a cup of coffee and just talk.” Sadly I had to decline for reasons of health, but it did make me think of all the times I have sat around the very table pictured above.
Of course when it was new there were six chairs, two with arms. The picture above depicts it as it is today. Two benches lovingly crafted by my husband to replace the chairs that finally fell apart after the grandchildren made good use of them and the boys became over six feet tall. They have replaced four chairs, and the table recently received a loving restoration from a grandson who was born years after it came into the family; Steven Hensler. Now grown sitting at this table his entire life time he was able to sit while planning his wedding and establishing his career choices.
*****A Humorous Memory**********
An early memory when the table was new happened the first time we sat at it. It belonged to my parents Dr. Willard and Marguerite Smith, in their new home in Iowa and we were visiting there from Kansas. With the children in bed we visited with the usual “catch us all up” kind of conversations. At about 9 p.m. my almost 4 year old son came wandering down the hallway from the bedroom and glanced at the 4 of us sitting there in relaxed conversation. He had a smile on his face as he kept walking, passing us at the table and turning into the galley kitchen. He stopped in front of the stove and pulled down the oven door. Not missing a beat he pushed his undershorts down and grabbed hold of his “utensil” (as his grandmother referred to his male anatomy) As we sat shocked into amazed silence, he allowed a stream of urine to shoot out of his utensil and he began to turn round and round. The urine of course then went into the oven, toward us at the table, then hit the lower cabinets under the sink, and shot toward the back door as he completed the circle. Then he repeated until he was depleted of urine. He calmly pulled up his undershorts, gave us a relaxed glance while turning his eyes to his return path to the bedroom.
Momentarily we sat not speaking and then a rush of conversation began. My parents insisted he was awake when he did that and I could see where they were going with the whole “that wasn’t funny” and “he might need some discipline” attitude. It compelled me to tell them this was a Grubbs family trait. My husband, who sat near enough to have witnessed it and attest to the facts, was a trusted member of the family. I on the other hand apparently had no “street creds” with my parents.
I continued to tell them that the first week we were married, I awoke during the night feeling the bed in motion and hearing my husband talking. I opened my eyes to behold him at the foot of the bed, down in a football stance shouting, “Down” (hesitation) “Set” (hesitation) and I suddenly knew what would follow if he said “Hut”. He would forge forward with his imaginary football he had tucked in one arm.
The problem was further complicated by the fact he would make a powerful lunge and hit the wall or window in back of our low headboard and either break his neck or go out the window of our second floor apartment. Instinctively I raised my leg quickly placing my foot against his chest and shoved with all my might. He went flying out of the bed backwards and through the bedroom door which sat just not quite 3 feet from the bottom of the bed. Let me just say he would not accept my explanation that he was asleep or playing football, but then he also could not understand why he would be in a vulnerable positon for his 100# wife to be able to kick him into another room, or why she would even want too.
For years to come, there would be hilarious and scary sleep walking events to be traversed in the middle of the night. From grabbing me in the night warning me in a conspiratol whisper, “Stay quiet. We have to get out of here before they see us.” His grip would be powerful and I knew he was deadly serious. Or the times he would jump out of bed and rush through the house, going into the yard (even in the rain once) and walking around the house’s perimeter believing the house was sinking.
For years both father and son (who inherited some Grubbs genetics) would entertain us over and over with their somnambulist expeditions and be furious refusing to believe we told the truth about it. My husband’s nephew Tom was also quite a sleepwalker. His parents had to put furniture and other impediments in front of the doors at nights (he would always find a way to unlock the doors). They lived in a small community, Billings, Ok. with a main street and just a few side streets.
At one point, the family of Jack, Lynda and Tom Grubbs were living in the opposite ends of the town from his family, Bill and Rosa Grubbs. It became a problem when Tom, barely in grade school, would “escape” in the middle of the night from the trailer , often in his t-shirt and underwear, no shoes, and sound asleep but eyes wide open, would get out without his parents hearing him. More than once the town’s night watchman who patrolled the small community would spot Tom walking in the very middle of town, in the middle of the street, lit only by moonlight. (No street lights in those years.) The night watchman knew the story and not to wake him and freak him out. He would slowly follow at a distance until Tom safely reached his grandparents. Because their doors were never locked, he would watch Tom enter then figure his work was done and go about his business.
Over the years all the “sleepwalkers” have entertained us but refused to believe they are guilty and believe us to be just punking them.
*****A Terrifying Memory*****
The Table witnessed one of the most terrifying life events in our collective family history. My parents had “moved on” from the new house and moved across the Mississippi River to Rock Island, Il. where they bought a building with a specialized handicapped residence built above as my mother’s health was declining. The chiropractic clinic already built below it was perfect for my dad to expand his practice and still teach at Palmer College of Chiropractic just commuting the bridge daily. They left The Table at the house for my sister Trula’s family which was soon to be five children. One can imagine all the birthdays and holidays celebrated on it, and my grandson Bradley sitting there trying to gag down his broccoli.
It was after the birth of the fifth child that my sister had to go in the hospital for surgery overnight. My mother came and stayed with the children and was diligent to see the house was secured, locking the doors, checking the windows. My sister’s purse had been stolen a few weeks before as she had a habit of leaving it on the kitchen counter just inside the back interior door, which after two steps down, one could access the back door which led outside.
The next night mother stayed to feed the children their supper and put them to bed before leaving for home. My sister was miserable with a very sore abdomen and was using cold packs and taking pain meds so she went to bed as soon as mother left. At two in the morning, she was uncomfortable again and got up to get some pain medication and renew the cold pack. She went back to bed leaving the hall light on so the children could get up and go to the bathroom and her daughter Amy who was scared of the dark would not have a problem and call to her to take her to the bathroom. Amy strongly believed there was a “witch in the house” at night that would get her.
We would learn later that my sister’s rapist came in the back door (locked) and passed The Table, to get to the hallway and bedrooms. A silent witness who would never be able to divulge the identity of the attacker. A witness who would hear her fearful gasp when she saw him in the doorway of her darkened room, and lit by the back light of the hallway he would look like a witch with a pointed hat. The silent witness, who with my sister realized it was a man in a pointed hooded sweat shirt. The instructions to her, the warnings to her about not reporting the rape and the warning that he would come back and kill the kids and her, were forever contained in the inanimate witness.
Terror had come to the family and The Table bore witness, but could not tell.
The Walls? They really do not talk.
*****The Table Travels*****
And so the table began it’s odyssey of travels in the family. My sister’s life was forever changed and challenged and her marriage could not be sustained against the pressures brought about by “Rape Trauma Syndrome.” Neither she nor her husband could come to terms about the man who went on to rape 9 more women in home invasion rapes, each one more violent than the last. While her “coping” method was a positive effort as she returned to college taking Criminal Justice courses, and then became the second female police officer on the Davenport, Iowa force, it only furthered the chasm between husband and wife. She became a sex crime expert and the next 28 years her job would become all-consuming and the family dynamics would shift time and again.
The Table was left behind when the family left the house as the parents divorced, and it then went to my house for a few years. Our family of five did not need that large of a table and chairs, but our adolescents were creating a dynamic of “company” that was ongoing so it served its purpose. Truth be told, in those years I was glad The Table was a silent “witness”.
When our daughter Trula Dee got her first home in Wisconsin she had her own “gang of five” like the Aunt for whom she was named. The Table went through many years of which a remarkable book could be written about family, life, love, and challenges of health issues overcome that could teach many lessons about resilience and reliance on God. Through all the 25 years it has been there with them in Wisconsin, The Table has served them well. When it got its most recent refinishing job by the grandson Steven, there was a great deal of loving care given to what had now become a focal point of “family”.
Each person could tell stories about The Table and things it had witnessed. They would honestly point out, some would be “the good, the bad and the ugly” as could each former caretaker of The Table.
Let us realize that this table is still in use and Trula Dee is now a grandmother for the first time and it will be a opportunity for even greater bonding around The Table. As for me, a great-grandmother for the first time, it will bring back memories of the occasions of welcoming my first grandchild when it was at my home, as she will her first grandchild at her home.
And while my mother Marguerite is gone, it would do her frugal heart good to know The Table still serves her family and within the elements of the table are the memories of over 50 years of family history.
Life doesn’t get more real than that.