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

[…presently continuing from last week]

We have continued on and Phil bein’ an amazin’ wood carver, has developed a real good method of staining wood without the harsh appearance of chemical products from the store.  It’s also good in the clutch when you have no available funds for such items as wood stain.  He makes a solution from hardwood ashes and water.  It’s as simple as that.  Your stepdad learned how to do this from Phil so he dug into our trusty woodstove, Two Sticks, (so named due to his ability to warm the entire house at 20 below with 2 good size chunks of wood) and placed the ashes in a bucket, then he covered them with about 3 inches of water.  This was all stirred up and left to set overnight.

Next morning we got out 2 sponges.  Your stepdad had taken one of our handiest tools, the turkey baster (we understand that our lesbian friends these items for artificial insemination, how much more versatile can a kitchen tool be!) and decanted the water precipitant from atop the settled ashes and squirted our ready solution into a large bowl.  I finally made a contribution (besides putting up with Robin’s tales of woe on the phone about how misunderstood she was in Akiak) as we dabbed and wiped on 6 coats of wood ash.  After that we had to take the table downstairs to the utility room in the company of the furnace, hot water heater and the well pump, where she was turned over carefully and set down on a large clean piece of cardboard.  Your stepdad, Phil and I then signed our 3 names with a wood burning tool.

We then went to town on applying 5 hefty coats of polyurethane to the entire table, including shelf and legs.  After that, your stepdad brought her upstairs but not without a fair amount of grunting as he was being headstrong that day and didn’t ask for any help.  I heard him and came running from the study where I was slavin’ before the computer as usual.  We then took her out to the front porch where she had the final 2 coats put on her with a spray application of polyurethane.

The final task was to have Phil come up to our house and drill the holes for the screws to attach the shelf to the table leg cross bars.  This involved getting out the portable drill and carefully placing the 2 shelf boards on the bars in the correct configuration.  They were cut and made to accommodate any possible future swelling so they could not just turn her over and screw away.

Your stepdad and Phil turned the table on her side after they had secured the shelf placement with two cardboard shims and then they drilled 5 pilot holes for each end of the shelf, 3 on the wider board and 2 on the narrower board.  After that they drilled the actual holes with a different drill bit and then put the screws in.  The date of completion for her is March 28, 2003.  The deck of cards was purchased on March 24, 2003 at the Brooks Drug Store in Montpelier when I had to go get a couple of prescriptions refilled and your stepdad, ever the wanderer, scouted the store for a pack of cards with large numbers, most likely in anticipation of the day when we will all play cribbage together and we will be able to see the numbers OK.

Today, March 29, 2003 we are packing her up and taking her to the Mailboxes, Etc. store where a guy named Art will be called to come and crate her up for delivery to you via Emery Air Freight to Maryland.  Of course a debate has begun regarding whether or not you will be able to fit her in the backseat of your Honda or on the roof or what.  Your stepdad favors that you won;t be able to get it home with the Honda side, but I know you really really well and I favor that you’ll get it home with the Honda or else side.

Well as all things go here in the North Country, we still have the table in our possession and it is now March 31, 2003.  Last Saturday we set out to town, the usual 16 mile trip, and when we arrived there we had 3 tasks to complete.  Since we are effectively between sources of income at present, we have been taking any little jobs that our basket business provides.  We were to meet a man from Burlington who had me fix the cover of a large round basket from Africa.  We were also to meet a UVM student from Burlington who wanted to purchase 20 pounds of moose meat from us.  And finally get the table, who was standing up proud in the back of the SUV (you try drivin’ up our driveway in the middle of winter with your little front wheel drive Volkswagon!) and looking fine.

It just so happens that Saturday was the most popular day of the Green Mountain Film Festival in Montpelier.  The guy with the basket cover said he’d meet meat 3:45 and the student said she’d meet me at 3:30.  No one had arrived by 3:55.  By the way I stood in the wind and driving rain waiting for these folks for a good 45 minutes.  I finally spotted the basket cover guy going into the city hall across the street instead of meeting me in front of the theater as promised.  So I ran around the corner to where the car was parked, got the cover, ran across the road, up the many sets of stairs to the city hall theater and was promptly turned away by a stern woman who said the movie had started.  Rats!

I trudged down the stairs and when  hit the street a strange looking hippie guy approached me and asked if I was there to sell moose meat.  Visions of the big bust on the farm entered my mind but I shook them off and proceeded to take the guy and the woman he was with back across the street to the car and the moose meat.  When I asked the student if she had her money she looked at me sheepishly, blinked the rain drops out of her eyes and said, “gee no it’s back at the car”.  I told her through clenched teeth, just go to your car and I’ll meet you there.  After I jumped in our car I told your stepdad what had just transpired and his only comment was, “Is everybody stoned today?”

We went over to her car and she finally wrote me a smeared check in the rain.  Your stepdad and I decided to wait for the basket cover guy who was still watching a sad, lesbian movie that only lasted an hour.  So we went an ate Nacho’s at Julio’s, the worst Mexican restaurant on the planet.  After that we went back to the city hall theater and met the guy coming down the stairs and processed back out tot he sidewalk only to transact more business with another soggy check.  we figured we would go straight to the bank machine and we deposited our take, $80, a great amount for a wet day’s work in Montpelier.

Our final task loomed ahead, take the table to Mailboxes, Etc.  We had even called ahead to ask that we be allowed to come through the back door.  We pulled into the parking lot normally reserved for people on Jury Duty for the court across the street, but this Saturday, we got to pull in an block the dumpster.  Your stepdad popped out of the car and said to the two women standing on the stairs smoking if this was the correct back door for Mailboxes, upon which one replied it is but we’re closed.  I begged her and beseeched her, don’t say that!  What a sadist, she just smiled and said again, we’re cloooossseddd.  Okee dokee then, we took the beautiful table home in the SUV and noted that all the while we had driven around there was not a peep from her.  Your stepdad ever the witty one, explained that she hadn’t even barked because we took it all off of her.  Sigh.

When we got back home it was still raining and blowing to beat the band and we brought her back into the house.  Since we are pretty good at making lemonade from lemons, your stepdad decided to do some touch up on her and applied two more coats of polyurethane.  Now she shines good to blind you and we hope you will be able to see the game boards for her brilliance.

Last night it snowed about 8 inches and this morning its back to winter.  As I have sat typing the sequel to your table saga, the sun has returned and we are readying ourselves for another trip to town and another shot at shipping her off to you.  If this is where the journey part ends you will know that we were successful.

The Oral tradition We Expect You to Remember!

Now you may be wondering why a game table for a Wedding present?  So here is the sentiment behind it.  When your stepdad and I first got together we started playing cribbage, mostly because I did not know how to play Chess.  I still don’t know how and have no desire to learn.  Anyway, we played Cribbage together for 2 solid years before I could beat him.  I lost every game as faithfully as the sun comes up in the morning.

I had to deal with all those losses as best as I could and I only threw the cribbage board once.  Your stepdad will of course tell you that he was a graceful loser, but he really was pretty peeved with your stepdad for handing him a pretty quick defeat.  I saw it all and I remember it clearly because I knew that you were figuring on polishing the game off rapidly.  You will deny this, and that’s OK we understand completely.

Upon the event of your stepdad meeting your Grandmother Bertha, we played cribbage with her and your Grandfather.  I was as usual too slow for your Grandmother and she kept on grabbing my pegs and counting for me.  When I would reprimand her she would always stick her tongue out at me.  As a result I could only dub her style of play as “Cutthroat Cribbage”.  She became known as the Queen of intolerant cribbage players but she always made us laugh to the point of tears and occasional incontinence.

We invite you to actively use your table as a way to keep your family together.  We need all the social glue we can get and so your table is our Titebond, keeping us all connected no matter how far we all are from each other.  When we return from our tour of duty in Nome, Alaska or even when we may come to visit before we finish our work there, we must all play cribbage and Chess and Checkers and Backgammon and keep our senses of humor well exercised and show our love for one another while someone counts for someone wand we sip iced tea or coffee and feel totally grateful for our table experiences and each other.  We will tell tales of those who have gone on to the spirit world in our family and we will plan for the coming of brand new little ones who will learn about the journeys of ancestors from places like Ireland and Italy and France and those who have lived in North America for thousands of generations.

We have a multicultural United Nations of a family and we will keep all our ancestors happy as we play our multicultural games on a the table from a beautiful valley in north central Vermont where our legacy will live on in a log house, many many trees and the acres of land we preserve for futures of children.  May you always remember your roots and have a helluva good time beatin’ each other at the game table.


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]