Thursday, September 07, 2006

Zen and the Art of Refinishing Family "Heirlooms"

I am taking a new class on BNU - this time in Zen Miracles. The class just started Tuesday and already I have learned so much and have even had my first zazen sitting, which typically for me, ended with a cat making me laugh!

What I have learned so far is the importance of allowing thoughts to enter my mind and then letting them go - letting go of control over them and not latching on to any one of them and turning them into a worry or anger or obsession or anything else disruptive to the natural flow of thought and being.

This afternoon after work I decided to make a bit more progress on a piece of furniture I inherited in June. This is a wonderful, excellent piece of furniture. It is the picnic-style kitchen table that sat in my paternal grandparent's kitchen for as long as I can remember and before. After my grandparents passed away the table went to my parents' house and very appropriately sat on the front porch. As a young adult I remember summer dinners eaten out there around it. A whole lot of iced tea has been consumed at this table! Because it is a bit heavy it ended up out on the front porch of that house for a few winters, unprotected from the elements, and when it finally made it inside it was banished to the damp basement.

When this albatross was loaded into the back of my truck in June for the drive back to Atlanta I privately wondered what in the hell I had gotten myself into. This bedraggled, bruised icon of my youth was nothing like the fine country kitchen table that lived in my memories. I knew for a fact that this thing could not enter my house until it had been thoroughly refinished. It went directly to my screened front porch as I have no other place for sanding, etc.

I did work on it quite a bit at first, doing the first round of rough sanding within the first 3 weeks. Then it got oppressively hot and I stopped. In the past few days it has cooled off - enough that I have been able to turn off the AC and open the windows, so today I decided to begin the fine sanding.

My goal has been only to sand off the badly weathered finish and preserve the history of the table, not to make it look new, and I think I have done this successfully. Scratches and marks from my father's childhood remain, and that is the way I wanted it. As I work thoughts enter and leave my mind about the history of this fine, simple piece of furniture. I think of my grandmother in her kitchen, preparing this shrimp/rice/black olive dinner - what was that called? We didn't have the best of relationships but I believe this was resolved before she died. At least it was for me. I think of my grandfather, who told wonderful stories and the more he told them the better they got. After Gran died Grandaddy would latch onto one food and eat it until he was sick and tired of it and then latch onto another. As I sand I see the pecan twirls and strawberry shortcake that sat on the table waiting to be consumed in his latest food kick. I remember the medications that sat there on a tray, and the small TV. I imagine my father and his sister and brother sitting there for supper as children and my memories take me back to all the stories I heard while growing up - stories like when Aunt Kitty would have a date and Dad and David would "rig" the front yard rope swing so when the date inevitably sat to swing he would fall on his ass! I remember sitting with Grandaddy on a trip while I was in graduate school and when it was time for me to get back on the road he would put a $20 bill in my hand and tell me it was to ensure that I got closer to my Dad than I was to him before I needed money again!

It is literally impossible for me to put a minute of work into this project without my mind meandering through my past. It is what it is. I breathe the fine sawdust of the sanding process and relive my childhood. I want to complete this project and have this wonderful table and benches in my own country kitchen and yet I want to continue working on it forever, just to have these moments of memories.

Truly this is a Zen project.

1 comment:

Suerk said...

I love this posting. I know exactly what you have experienced. May we never reach a point where we don't feel such random associations and connections. They are the stuff that define us.