Thursday, January 31, 2013

Vera Bachman's Table

The kitchen table. It’s one of those ordinary items in our homes. Seldom do we appreciate how much of our personal history, our family history, took place around it.

Joy Harjo writes about the humble kitchen table:

“Babies teethe at the corners.…

“It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.…

“We have … prepared our parents for burial here.

“At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray for suffering and remorse. We give thanks.…”  (from “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, by Joy Harjo)

When I ran across Joy’s poem recently, my thoughts flashed to an old piece I wrote, Vera Bachman’s Table. It’s among stories I’ve written for my grandchildren, and a few years ago it was published in an anthology for Women’s History Month at U. of Central Missouri. I’ll share it with you here (and I welcome your critique in the comments section below):

Vera Bachman’s Table

When I was in seventh grade, on the night of May 6, 1960, my mother told my two little brothers and me that the next day our father was moving out and that they would file for a divorce. I was twelve years old, Doug was ten, and little Davey was just six. We felt traumatized to the cores of our young beings. On May 7, our father moved out, and the next day was my mother’s 38th birthday.

My mother had earned her teaching credential in Canada and she was a teacher in every cell of her body. Now, living in Seattle, she turned to teaching to support her three little children.

However, Washington State would not recognize Mom’s Canadian credential so she had to return to college. She turned first to the University of Washington but it would not recognize any of her Canadian college credits. Seattle Pacific College honored half of her Canadian credits so, even though SPC was a lot more expensive than the UW, she enrolled at SPC. I suspect she had to take out a loan to pay for tuition and books. Mom found enormous support from everyone at SPC because they showed their Christianity in tangible ways: they recognized her desperation, her heartache over the divorce, and her need to care for her children. They understood her need for financial aid and to get her degree as soon as possible so she could earn a living. They bent over backward to help her: at times they gave Mom permission to take 24 credits per term in order to push ahead rapidly.

In those days the Visa Card and Master Card had not been invented, however, gas stations had begun issuing credit cards. I remember that our pastor and his wife, themselves living on a tight budget, gave Mom their Chevron credit card to help pay for our family’s gas.

At the same time, the Seattle School District granted Mom an emergency teaching certificate and hired her to work half-time as a Kindergarten teacher at Northgate Elementary School, conveniently located between SPC and our home north of Seattle.

I don’t know how Mom endured her exhausting schedule as a teacher, a more-than-full-time student, and a mother, and I don’t know how we kept putting food on the table. We ate sparsely and we wore hand-me-down clothes and worn shoes. I remember that my saddle shoes had completely worn out: the soles had broken away from the upper leather, and the sole flapped underneath my foot with every step. One day my teacher put a rubber band around the toe of my shoe and under the sole so it wouldn’t flap.

I said I don’t know how Mom did it, but I often spotted her on her knees beside her bed in prayer. God extended His loving provision through Mom’s church friends, SPC friends, and the Seattle School District.

And through people like Vera Bachman.

Mom tells me she was terribly afraid during those years of her life—afraid of constantly living on the edge of financial disaster and physical exhaustion. Surely her faith was stretched. Yet God provided people like Vera Bachman, a teacher at Northgate Elementary School. Recently widowed, she had some understanding of my mother’s heartache and ever-present needs. Vera was the best kind of a friend: she understood and quietly reached out. Sometimes Mom would arrive at her classroom to find a note from Vera asking if Mom needed cash. Another time Vera gave us a sofa and an old dining room table.

Even now, when my mother recalls Vera's friendship, she gets tears in her eyes thinking about Vera’s sensitivity, her generosity, and the way God worked through her to answer Mom’s prayers. The Bible tells us that God will care for us, but it does not tell us He will knock on our door and hand us a check to cover the house payment. He does not place a roasted chicken on the dinner table. No, almost always God uses other people in the process of helping us. He knows how comforting and encouraging it is to look into someone’s eyes and see kindness and concern. He knows how good a hug feels, and how cheering a friendly face can be. So, He gives us each other. God provided Vera for my mother’s encouragement and help in real ways. The old sofa is long gone but that old dining room table is still in the family, a tangible reminder of how God meets our needs.

That old dining room table—ah, if only it could talk! I don’t know what stories that table would tell about living in Vera’s home, but it was already old when she gave it to us, and over several decades that table has made the rounds in our family. For years, Mom and my brothers and I used it in our home. It was delicately designed, with curves and turned legs, in dark-stained wood. It had a number of leaves, and opened up to a grand size for entertaining lots of people.

A few years after Dave and I got married Mom purchased, with enormous delight, a maple dining room table in the American Colonial style—a long-term dream come true for her. Thus, Dave and I became the owners of Vera’s table. It was the first table Matt and Karen sat up to when they were babies—originally in our rental home in north Seattle, when Matt was born, and later on East Sanson in Spokane when Karen was born. We entertained countless friends and relatives around that table over the years.

When Karen was almost a year old, we bought an old house on Thorpe Road southwest of Spokane, and there the kids and I sat around Vera’s table and drew pictures, assembled model airplanes, crafted artificial flowers, and made Christmas decorations. I used it as a place to set up my sewing machine and I sewed clothes for the kids and for myself, and curtains for our windows, and tablecloths and napkins for our dinners around Vera’s table. I sat at that table to write letters to my Grandma Mac and to my mother and to Dave’s parents, and to address our Christmas cards every year. When the kids got older, they sat around that table to do their homework.

Years later, in Port Angeles, when Dave and I could afford to buy our own dining room table, Vera’s table became my desk. The creator of that table brilliantly designed it so that, with several leaves, it became a large dining table, or, with all the leaves removed, it became a small table perfect for a desk. I used that old table as a desk for all the years I served as a BSF Teaching Leader. I spread out all my books and papers on that table, I prayed sitting at that table, I learned to use a computer on that table, and pounded out my 24-page lectures every week for five years.

In 1993, Dave and I moved to Africa and Karen became a first-year teacher in Port Angeles. She bought her little house on Caroline Street and put Vera’s table in her kitchen. Many a morning it served as Karen’s meeting place with God. Friends and Young Life kids ate around that table. Another Young Life leader once got ambitious and sanded the old finish off the top of the table, but never got around to re-finishing it. A good tablecloth took care of that problem.

When Karen moved to California to teach in Pacific Palisades, we loaded the old table into a U-Haul and unloaded it in her newly rented apartment in Brentwood. There it served as her dining room table, and no doubt a place to plan her students’ lessons and grade their papers.

When she and Brian got married, it became their dining room table. A couple of years later, they moved into a 600 square foot guesthouse on Zumirez Drive in Malibu, California, and their little Chase ate his first meals at Vera’s table. Maybe Finn did, too; I’m not sure because at some point, Karen and Brian received a gift from a family friend, a sturdier dining room table that matched their chunky rustic bench and armoire, and they moved Vera’s table to Brian’s classroom in Pacific Palisades. Today, students use that table. Since both Vera and my mother were teachers, I’m sure they’d smile to know where that table is today.

Now Brian, Karen, and the boys are moving to a larger home, and I do hope they have a special little place for Vera’s table. It’s an enduring reminder of God’s provision for our family—several generations of our family.

When Chase, Finn, and Kade are old enough to understand, I hope Karen will tell them the story of Vera’s table. Perhaps it will remind them to do what their great-grandmother did: to pray and trust God to provide for them when they find themselves in desperate need. I hope it will also inspire them to be like Vera Bachman—to notice when others are in need and, with God’s help, lend a hand in tangible ways.

Now it’s your turn. If your kitchen table (or your parents’ or grandparents’ table) could talk, what stories would it tell? Perhaps generations of kids received lessons on how to be men and women of honor. Who sat around that table? What were their hopes and dreams? Did your family welcome the homeless and strangers to your table? Did your family entertain someone famous at your table? Who said prayers to bless food and heal heartache? Maybe at that table, a young woman received—or refused—an engagement ring, and that action set the course for generations to come. Perchance a letter written on the distant war front was read around that table and the news forever changed your family.

Have you written a story about a dinner table for your memoir?

If so, let us know in the comments below.

If not, what stories do you need to write? They don’t have to be about kitchen tables. Maybe you have stories about some other piece of furniture, or a house, a hat, a car, or pet. I have a hunch your kids and grandkids would love to know those stories.


  1. Linda,such a beautiful story and so many precious memories. As I read, I began to think about the table I grew up with, but it was never passed on, and I wonder what because of it. So many stories I yet need to tell, and to write. In our time of healing now, you have given me seed for writing projects to work on. Thank you for your ever faithful weaving of God's continuing love for us.


    1. Ah, Sherrey, I'm always so glad to hear from you. You're in my prayers as you go through this long time of healing. Surely God has rich treasures hidden inside these difficulties that you could not receive otherwise. Hold tight to God's hand! May you eventually find surprises of joy. And, as you are able, write those stories that come to mind. Thanks for keeping in touch, Sherrey.


  2. What a wonderful, inspiring story! And you brought back some great memories for me. The kitchen table was the center of our family life. Whenever aunts and uncles visited, they always gathered around the kitchen table. We played board games there and I have many happy memories of helping my mother bake (in the days when you could lick the bowl!). Your posts are always a huge dose of comfort and creativity for me.

    1. Hi, Cathy, your kitchen table sounds like a Vera Bachman-type table! What precious memories you have from those days around that table! I'd enjoy knowing what color it was, what shape it was, and what the room looked like (kitchen, dining room?). Let me know if you ever write something about your table. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Cathy. :)


  3. My memoir titled Tell me what He did, details a journey of healing from incest and other abuse. The reason for the title is that every morning, after my father's "visit" to my room my mom would greet me with, "I heard him in your room last night, tell me what he did." I'd have to tell her and she wrote it in notebooks, filling up two. But the title has a second meaning, my real healing came when I let Jesus into my life and what He (capital H) did brought true healing.

    Most of my table memories are fraught with terror because of my father. In one happier scene there is a bit of my mother's backstory - the telling of it took place at the kitchen table. Her orange juice was laced with vodka and she drank from morning to dusk. At this time my father was seeing another woman. I recently learned that my mother was using me to keep him around. Here's the scene:

    Mommy wipes sweat from her forehead with the back of her arm. “These sheets should dry fast, it’s so damn hot.” She rubs the small of her back and sighs. “I’d give anything for an automatic washer and dryer.”

    “Why?” I ask. “The wringer’s so much fun and we make a great team. You send the clothes through the wringer and I catch ‘em.”

    “Bet you Hazel’s got one. Bastard takes better care of her and her brat than he does us.”

    Wish she wouldn’t talk about Hazel.

    When the clothes are dry we make my bed. I point to a framed photograph hanging on the wall – a picture of a shorthaired pretty lady wearing a sparkly headband with a feather, kinda like an Indian princess. “Who’s that?”

    “Why, that’s a picture of me in my favorite dress. Didn’t I look good? Let’s get a drink to cool off and I’ll tell you about it.”

    I sit at the kitchen table and sip cherry Kool-Aid. “Why does it have all those hangy things?”

    “That’s fringe. The hangy things moved like wild when I danced. Maggie, a hoity-toity maid who worked down the block from me, wanted that dress too. I got it though. You shoulda seen her face when I wore it on my day off.” Mommy smiles and takes a sip of orange juice.
    “That’s the day I got my Flapper haircut. It was all the rage but my parents thought I was trashy to have my hair so short.”


    “That’s what we called ourselves in the twenties. I was so good at dancin’ the Charleston. Here, let me show you.” She puts her cigarette in the ashtray and dances. Sort of walking forward and back; then puts her hands on her knees and quickly moves her hands back and forth across her knees while her knees move in and out. “That fringe flied.”

    “I remember seeing someone dance like that in a movie.”

    She sits down. “I saved four months for that dress. Back in those days you only earned a few dollars a week. That’s the first new dress I ever had.”

    “Your parents didn’t get you new clothes?”

    “There was twelve of us. Daddy was a coal miner and we were dirt poor. We used to run and meet him after the whistle blew. He saved crusts of bread from his sandwiches to give us kids a treat. Couldn’t afford new clothes, so all my dresses were passed down from my three older sisters.”

    “Didn’t the kids in your class make fun of you?”

    “No, we were all poor. Sides, I only went to school ‘til eighth grade. My baby sister, Anna, was the only girl to get new clothes and graduate high school.”

    “You didn’t have to go to twelfth?”

    “Nope, eighth. My parents needed money to support the family so they farmed me out as a live-in housekeeper to a rich family in Chicago. Most of my money went home. With the little I could keep, I bought that dress.”

    “Doesn’t seem fair.”

    “Wasn’t. Anna got everything cause of the money I sent home. I got shit.” She sighs and sips her orange juice. “Still, I had fun. On my day off, my friend Betty and I went dancing. Those were some good times. Go on out and play.”

    Pam’s not outside, so I sit in the shade behind the barbeque pit and read. I can’t imagine her dancing and having fun.

    1. Oh, Heather, what a gripping story you have written. I can picture you at the kitchen table, sipping cherry Cool-Aid, and your mother with her vodka and orange juice. My heart goes out to you for the abuse you endured for so many years, but bless your heart -- I applaud you for seeking God's healing and purposes for your life. Thanks for sharing it. I apologize for being slow to reply. I have been out of town.

      Thanks for leaving your comment, Heather.


  4. Dear Linda, This is such a beautiful story. It reminds me of all the important, heartfelt discussions I have shared with my parents around our own kitchen table. That's why I envision my blog as a kitchen table and my posts as invitations to join in the conversation. The kitchen table represents the warmth of family bonds during good times and not so good times. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Lovely! Your blog represents your kitchen table! I love it.

      Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, has written a book called Kitchen Table Wisdom. One of her vignettes, especially, gave me hope and changed the direction of my life when I really, really needed it! It always amazes me the way God works -- even around kitchen tables!

      Hugs to you, Kathy,
      Linda P.S. Sorry to be slow in responding. I have been out of town.