The Story of the Game Table: A Gift to My Son and Daughter-In-Law Upon the Occasion of Their Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

By: your mother and step-father


Your handmade family table began its life as a Sugar Maple tree in East Calais, Vermont.  We estimate the birth of the tree at about the year 1899.  This tree grew in a steep mountain valley with a sharp slope, akin to a small gorge.  It clung to the side of the hill for 100 years.  Most likely it escaped the logging saws due to the difficulty of accessing such a tree on steep terrain.

At the time we thanked it for becoming a wood product; we harvested it with the help of a man named Jeffery Doubleglen, Jr. who has been a lifelong resident of Calais.  He stands at 6 foot 3 and weighs around 350 pounds, all of it muscle.  He fills an entire doorway when he comes to see you.  He is a local Paul Bunyon and has earned a living from the woods all his life.  A chain saw poses no problems for his beefy hands.  He is also the man who poured the foundation for our log home.

Once Jeff cut down the tree his good buddy, Peter Boyne III, another longtime woodsman hauled it out with his skidder.  He is a man given to language more common in a bygone era.  He is also the man who excavated the land for our log home to be built.  His comments upon measuring the exact location of the house foundation were that he guessed we, “slithered her over as far as she’ll go”. and that upon the occasion of inclement weather and a long winter, he will tell you that, “we cahn’t stand too much more of this snow or we’ll all be a weepin'”.  His nickname is simply Petey and he plows our driveway faithfully all winter.

The Process

It was the Spring of 1999 when the maple tree made its debut in the lower valley, in Abenaki the Pasedena, “long narrow valley”.  Yes that is an Abenaki word; it is not from the Spanish.  Anyway, she looked like a beauty at first blush.  32 inches diameter and fit for the making of high grade lumber to be sold on the market.  But when Jeff cut off the butt end of the tree, it was found that she had seen too many winters and her core had begun to die.  As it was we took her at a good time so she didn’t continue to suffer through a long old age with countless woodpeckers pounding away at her to release the hidden pests who would crawl all over her bark.

The decision was made to see if a large slab couldn’t be cut from her to make a table of some kind.  Perhaps a coffee table?  And so Mark Mackinley, another lifelong Calais resident arrived in Pasedena with his brand new Woodmizer portable saw mill.  A Mercedez Benz of a mill with a hydraulic lift for placing the logs in the carriage for sawing.  The maple yielded a single slab, 52 inches long by 21 inches wide and a full 2 inches thick.  A beauty of a slab, while sadly all the rest of her wood went to make us warmer in winter.

As is customary after sawing there is a time for standing around and talking with those who drink beer, sipping away from cans, while the rest of us watch their moods change.  During this process it is a requirement that opinions are opined, particularly regarding the debate over the length of time it will take to dry out the slab of wood to make it suitable for use as a table top.  In addition, you must also state the pros and cons of drying the wood in the “bahn”.  Most there that day held firmly to the notion that the wood could not withstand the strain and most likely a large split would spread its way the entire length of the slab.  The rest of us quietly gave up trying to entertain positive ideas in consideration of the amount of beer consumed.

Well she was placed in Mitch and Phil Roy’s “bahn” and she sat there until March of 2003.  It wasn’t an easy life.  From time to time she was shat upon by the various birds inhabiting the “bahn” and she witnessed the time that Phil shot a hole with his .22 through the second stomach of Lacy the cow in an effort to kill a marauding fox.  Phil’s second attempt to kill that fox wasn’t much better as he only managed to shoot the chicken directly out of the fox’s mouth.  All this the table top saw and could do nothing to help.

She dried real nice though and she proved all the valley drunks wrong and she didn’t split but a little at each end.  She was bound and determined to be your table.

It was exactly march 10, 2003, well into the 21st century when your stepdad lovingly carried her from the bahn, well actually carried her with Phil Guy’s help.  She is pretty hefty after all.  They brought her up to our workshop and your stepdad started to sand her smooth.  A debate ensued regarding whether or not to leave the bark on the sides of her.  It was decided after 3 days to remove it as it was beginning to peel anyway.  A second debate then commenced regarding which side would be the top of her.  She also resolved that issue on her own when it was discovered that there were sections of slightly pulpy wood on the wider surface so she was turned over to reveal a more uniform and narrower top.

The sanding began with a newly purchased belt sander from the Aubuchon Hardware Store in Montpelier, VT.  It was I who completed this task, never an easy feat being a female buying power tools in a hardware store, but fortunately there are now enough men who are men and women who are men in Vermont that it isn’t as much an oddity as years ago.

Suffice it to say, the sanding involved the use of first a 50 grit paper.  This is a rough grain used to take down the largest imperfections.  Next came an 80 grit paper to start the smoothing, followed by 120 grit which makes the surfaces uniform and soft.  This process was completed on both the top and bottom sides of her.

After the sanding, your stepdad used a Sawzall, a mightily useful tool that no respectable Vermonter should be without.  It can saw through walls, pipes, moose bones, metal and God knows what all else.  He used it to cut off the end corners to create two rounded ends.  We featured a time when small children might come careening around the living room only to trip and fall.  Hopefully a table with rounded ends would prove safer to christen.

At this juncture, another discussion began and lasted 2 full days pertaining to the need for table legs and how to best accomplish this task.  Your stepdad hit on the idea of prevailing upon another another local Calais resident (by the way, Calais has more Pulitzer Prize winning authors than any other town in America) John Borough.  He is a very well known furniture and cabinet maker who works exclusively with the créme de la créme of the wood product world.  So your stepdad phoned him up and asked if he would be so kind as to make and attach a respectable set of legs to her.  John agreed and before the roads could thaw too much she was delivered to his workshop.

A mere 2 days later, John called us to state that she was ready and standin’ on four legs.  Not only that but he attached these really fancy and functional feet to her that can be screwed up and down to account for variations in the shape of her or the flooring that she might stand upon.

Your step dad and Phil then began the arduous process of cutting out all the wood pieces to make the inlays for each game board.  They decided to use different types of wood to create contrasting squares, triangles and a cribbage circle.  They settled on using Butternut (this is the in between color wood), Cherry (the darkest wood and also the table legs and bottom shelf), and Maple (the lightest color and the table top surface).

It took about 4 days to cut all the pieces in stages.  First a rough cut for the general size and then 2 more to make them fit well.

The next step was the most terrifying of all.  Your stepdad and Phil had to use a router to scoop out all of the wood on the top surface for the inlaid game boards.  They reported only a couple of minor mishaps and no need to buy stock in Band-Aids just yet.  While their was some blood shed upon her, she was cleaned up immediately and you could never tell where the droplets dropped.

With the routing process safely behind them, they then set in the pieces for each board.  For the center strip of the backgammon board they decided to add a strip of Mahogany to delineate the 2 sides.  They also used this wood for placing an outside edging around both the chess/checkers board and the backgammon board.  To make the skunk lines on the cribbage board, they used ebony scavenged from an old piano somewhere in Vermont.  The only reason that these piano keys survived Mitch and Phil’s big house fire of January, 2002 was the fact that they had been abandoned in an out building on the farm many years ago in a plastic nail tray.

As a sign of our sophisticated level of life and dedication to finery, your stepdad then located a Walrus tooth that had been gifted to us by a completely crazy Jewish woman who had gone to the tiny village of Akiak, Alaska to gain forgiveness of her student loans in return for 2 years of teaching.  Her personality caused her no end of despair and bad relations as the local Native Alaskans tend to the quiet side and quietude has never been one of Robin’s endearing traits.  But at least she went to Alaska and we got this great Walrus tooth, far better than a T-shirt.  The poor tooth had lived in a box labeled “stuff” since we moved into our log home from the hippy architecture palace down the road on February 14, 1999.

The tooth was such a fine specimen that it frightened Phil to have to cut it, but since he is the carver by career choice, it fell on his shoulders to accomplish this task.  He did a fine job and he created 3 different shapes of cribbage pegs.  It will be easy to distinguish your pegs while you play cribbage by remembering the number of grooves on your peg or whether the top is rounded or flat.

In addition to the obvious needs, a center hole was routed out for the cribbage pegs and deck of cards storage.  A cover was also made from the Cherry to offset the color of the table top.  All you need to do to access your cards and pegs is to press one corner of the cover and you can lift it up from the opposite end.

In order to make the bottom shelf, we began again with the cutting of another tree on our land, a Cherry.  This too was cut by Jeff Doubleglen Jr. and skidded out by Petey Boyne.  She also aged for the same period of time in the “bahn” and didn’t get a split in her anywhere.  This tree had many boards made from her, all of them planed to 1 inch thick by your stepdad with our newly purchased blue planer, a wonderful tool that generates lots of shavings good for beddin’ in the bahn for the Kaowz.

Your stepdad commenced next to drilling 363 holes in the cribbage board with his spankin’ new portable drill, a gift from Winston Buckley Sonworth, in an effort to get us to quit buggin’ him about all the free meals we gave him over the past 10 years with scant little in return.  The bribery worked and we haven’t said a thing to him since.

It was a great day when your stepdad then sanded the entire table top to make a smooth and uniform surface that helped to set in the precisely shaped wood pieces.  To assist the security of the inlays, your stepdad and Phil also used a persuader in the form of Titebond glue.  A little glue to a wood table never hurts; in fact, this is the best insurance policy.

Now the table was ready for release from Phil’s house where the sawdust is no problem but my health could not have abided by it.  By the way, the farmhouse was now a new one built last summer, 2002, to replace the one that burned.  After that event at the start of 2002 we passed a year of turmoil in Pasedena.  We witnessed not only the fire but also a great big old contrived drug bust.  They came with the DEA, the ATF, the SWAT team, an Apache helicopter, AK47’s, the State Police, the Fish and Wildlife Dept., and trained dogs.  Hundreds of law enforcement agents crawled all over the farm, sometimes literally as they took it upon themselves to be thorough enough that even the manure pit was a source to seek all manner of illegal items.  They jumped up and down upon finding the bones of 7 to 8 moose, each and every one legally hunted by your stepdad and brought here for butchering.  It was a lot of fun to see them all buckled up in their hip waders and diggin in the manure, sort of a social commentary on the daily doings of some law enforcers.  Heck, if they hadn’t come to make a big drug bust, we could have sold tickets and really made a killin!  While they were in hopes of discovering a major drug ring, the poor guys only learned that the “reliable informant” who had bravely “tipped them off” was no more than a common thief weaving tales and trying to get off a charge while giving the “interdiction” horn a toot.  They were the most woebegone law enforcement cowboys we have ever seen and they left with but a few pot plants and no stash of weapons.

Unfortunately, that incident would contribute to the last major catastrophe of 2002.  The poor bahn again became the scene of sorrow as Mitch Guy, the older brother, decided he couldn’t withstand another Vermont winter or dealing with the trials of a man who had little income, many addictions to feed and too many change cards.  His solution was to hang himself in the bahn and he, being an amazin’ machinist and self taught engineer, fashioned a noose from an airline cable that served to take his head clean off.  We all guess that did the job and he suffered none in the process.

[to be continued]