By Tim Hayes
“Oh, no. We can’t take this.”
Astonished, dumbfounded, shocked, we spluttered in reply to the St. Vincent De Paul guy, “What?”
“We can’t take this table,” he said, within two seconds of laying eyes on it.
Our kitchen table, a simple, round, wooden-topped table with solid wood chairs surrounding it. We decided to donate it to charity, since a new kitchen island would be installed within a few days. But the crew operating under the auspices of old St. Vinny had other ideas and an inexplicably higher standard of what constitutes an acceptable charitable donation, I guess.
“Why can’t you take the table? There’s nothing wrong with it. We’ve had it for 14 years,” we asked, still incredulous, mouths still agape.
“The finish on the tabletop is too scratched up,” came the reply, as matter-of-fact as telling us that it looked a little cloudy outside.
St. Vincent De Paul – the actual guy – lived and died in the 17th century as a French Roman Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. He was canonized as a saint in 1737, having become renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity and revered as the “Great Apostle of Charity.”
I doubt that a few scratches on an otherwise perfect kitchen table would have slowed him down from accepting the donation and presenting this perfect set to a poor family in the slums of Paris, circa 1652.
Somehow that memo got lost or really, really misinterpreted by the highbrow sophisticates who toss his name around these days. Forgive my sarcasm. I’m sure the guy was just following orders, sticking to some established guidelines about the acceptable number of tabletop scratches or something, but that doesn’t make it right.
Couldn’t they see the value of our kitchen table? The thousands of hot meals prepared and served there? The family board games played there? The scores of injuries, major and minor, treated there? The stressful late-night discussions about money, and the lack thereof, that my wife and I struggled through together there?
Most of all, couldn’t they see that we had raised a family around that kitchen table? All five of us there, each in his or her own self-declared seat, doing homework, the kids fighting, the kids helping each other out, from the time they were tiny to the last meals each one had before leaving for college?
Does the table have some scratches? You’re damn right it does. And each one represents a memory, a moment, a slice of time or a thought shared or a hand held or a tear dried. That table stands for more than a cold piece of furniture. It has marked the very history of our family.
And you’re going to stand there, Mr. St. Vincent De Paul Guy, and tell me this kitchen table isn’t good enough to be donated to help some other family – some poor family looking to start a better life and create its own memories? Are you serious?
Yes, he was. And he got back in his St. Vincent De Paul truck and drove away, leaving us in a St. Vincent De Paul-scented cloud of disbelief and insult.
But then I had a thought. Maybe our trusty old scratched-up kitchen table, our Rosetta Stone, our Magna Carta, our Huckleberry friend, wasn’t quite ready to leave. Maybe it wanted to stay with us a little longer. Perhaps there are higher furniture forces at work here.
So, for now, she remains in place, ready to host meals and hearts and conversations, at least for a little while longer. Sometimes a scratch means more than a cold blemish on a piece of wood. Sometimes it’s a marker of family history that deserves to be respected and treasured.
I’m glad it’s still here. And someday, another family will be just as glad it’s still with them. St. Vinny, you really need to talk with your descendants. They’re missing the point in a big way, old buddy.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes