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Picnic table serves plenty of memories

It was a challenge. My fellow mask-wearing friend Deb had come over to help me wash down my vinyl fence. During a break, as we sat at the proper social distancing, Deb took a look at a forlorn picnic table that sat next to her in my carport. It was dirty, and half the white paint that I had applied to it some time in the ’70s had peeled off, leaving glimpses of the original redwood surface.

She took a long look at it and, in a somewhat shaming voice, suggested that I certainly ought to clean and repaint it. It stood in marked contrast to the rest of things about my home that seemed to be in a lot better condition.

After she left, I thought of what that table represented. Back in the ’40s, my cousin Billy (real name Irene) had a beautiful singing voice and played the guitar. She was dating and later married Barney, who sang and played the guitar equally well. They made several appearances on National Barn Dance music radio, which we could hear over WTAM at 9 p.m. on Saturdays. My grandmother would have me sit in silence as we listened to the beautiful duet singing of Barney and Billy.

Of course, they married and Barney joined the U.S. Navy to help with the World War II effort. Billy lost her brother, Arden, who was in the Army Corps, in a fiery plane crash.

After the war, Barney became a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker. When I married in the late ’60s (finally), Barney’s wedding present to us was a beautifully made little picnic table. It stood in the shelter of our back porch and hosted our friends for a cookout. One couple who joined us and ate my horribly overcooked steak was Pearl and Tom. This last April, Tom died of the coronavirus.

My dad, who was always trying to do things for us at our house, used the picnic table as sort of a sawhorse. Using an electric saw to cut some plywood, he went too far and put quite a nasty gouge in a corner of the tabletop. Aside from getting that paint job in the 70s, the table has remained — gouge and all — today. At least it has until recently.

Taking Deb’s challenge to heart, I disassembled the table piece by piece and took those forlorn remains to the cellar. Some of the pieces had contracted dry rot and had to be discarded. The lumber yard had no wood the exact dimensions of the original, so pine wood of a different size had to be substituted. Stripping all the remaining pieces of their white paint has been a very nasty and time-consuming chore. It will be painted white once more.

New, bigger carriage bolts had to be used to fill the rounded-out old holes, and an accounting of all the parts and material needed to be purchased has amounted to well over $150. I can buy a brand new picnic table of about the same size for under a hundred dollars.

The benches are now complete and I’m well underway to finishing the table top. The gouge will remain and will be highlighted with a touch of red paint.

As I continue my work on that old picnic table, I sing to myself “You Are My Sunshine,” a song that was long-gone from this earth Cousin Billy’s favorite. I can sing harmony to that piece pretty well. I wonder if I can find someone who can sing the melody …

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