Setting (And Bolting) the Thanksgiving Table

Libbe HaLevy of tells a classic Thanksgiving tale from way back in 1965 and the West Rogers Park area of Chicago. It just goes to show how timeless those painful memories can be!

As part of a Jewish family, I grew up with all the holiday season anguish most people associate with Christmas squeezed into Thanksgiving. My mother insisted on hosting the dinner, even though she hated and resented it and would carp on certain relatives before and after the event. One could set the clock by her yelling at the rest of us to get ready, which would always start 90 minutes before guests arrived. We could even be showered and dressed, and she'd yell. It was the stress she'd taken on and her sense of martyrdom.

This particular year, our dining room table had a wobble. It was a solid mahogany table with two pedestal legs, each of which had three smaller legs coming out of it. One of those smaller legs was loose, which created the wobble. We'd lived with it like that for almost a year - it had shown up after the previous year's Thanksgiving - and with the judicious addition of a book or two to shore up the leg, it would have been fine.

For whatever reason, two hours to lift-off, my mother decided that the leg had to be fixed - and her way of doing it was to yank the small leg off! Just like that, the table dipped to one side and stayed there, torquing the frame that held the extension boards and jamming them in place. If one of us had done it, it would have been "off with their heads!" But she had, and we couldn't comment...or even give each other eye contact or we would break out laughing. Nothing she did could prop it up -- putting a chair under it, a pile of books, sticking the little leg back on -- nothing... and the clock was ticking. We couldn't even set the table because there was no table!

Mom had no one to blame except herself, so we stayed out of her way while she realized what a mess she'd made. Finally she called our neighbor, a real Mr. Fix-It, and asked him to glue the leg back on. He came over, examined the problem and gave her the bad news: there was no time to use glue. The only way to temporarily fix the table was by drilling through the solid mahogany leg.

She had no choice. So he drilled between the small leg and the pedestal and fit pieces of plywood around them with wing nuts to brace the whole thing. This was truly ugly and demolished the wood of this 1930's furniture. But at least it held. As we raced to set the table, Mom left to shower and dress, but not before she admonished us not to say a word about it to anyone. We didn't, but we continued to suppress smiles, especially whenever anyone said, "The table looks so lovely!"

Footnote: I don't know when she had it done, but the next time I examined the table leg it looked perfect, with not even a sign where the drilled holes had been. I suspect an entirely new mahogany replacement leg had been carved to match and attached. The incident was never discussed again in my family until my mother's funeral, during which we gathered for a meal around that very table.

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