The most important lesson I learned after traveling to Virginia last week with The Wife to visit her family was unexpected.
It wasn’t that driving thirteen hours straight is a feat left for a much younger person — which it is. Or that, except me, no one in the four states along the way drives the speed limit — which they don’t. Or even that when The Wife drives, we get there much faster — which we do.
No. After our five-day visit, the lesson we learned was far more profound than any of those. Never, no matter how long it takes or how old you get, never give up on your dreams.
Fifty years is a long time to hold onto a dream, yet my father-in-law has. In 1970, land had to be cleared on his wife’s, my mother-in-law, family farm in Riverton, Illinois to make room for a workshop. Her dad had huge black oak trees cut down and sold off. All the wood made its way to Italy where it was turned into laminated sheets for making high-end furniture, except for two large slices. Those rough-cut slices were a gift from him to his new son-in-law. One was to be made into a table someday. That was the dream.
Sometimes life has a way of getting in the way of our dreams, but he never gave up on his. Soon after the trees were cut down, my father-in-law and his family of four (which included one very cute six-year-old girl that one day would become The Wife) returned to St. Louis, Missouri. The gifted wood slices went with them.
Stored in the garage, her dad would sand the slices when he had time, but life again got in the way of the dream table. The wood slices were often ignored — forgotten. When time permitted, her dad would spend hours hand sanding the slices, enjoying seeing his dream finally starting to take on its proper shape. Then the unthinkable happened. They lost their oldest son.
Working for the government, people often must move, and her dad was no exception. The now family of five made one last move to their current Annandale, Virginia house where the two wood slices were stored in the garage, covered with moving boxes and a tarp. Out of sight, the wood — and dream table — were forgotten — that is until one hot July day.
Three years ago, The Wife and I flew to D.C. and drove the short distance over to Annandale for a visit. During the visit, her dad asked if I could lend a hand cleaning out one side of the garage so they could park a car.
The purging and cleaning uncovered the two wood slices that hadn’t been touched in over 47 years. Her Dad saw me admiring them and said, “One day I’m going to finish sanding those down and make a table out of them.” He told me the story of where they came from as we were moving them out of the way. They were covered once again and once again forgotten — until last week.
After a good night’s rest, The Wife and I finally made it over to spend the day with her parents. For hours I listened as they talked about family and watched as The Wife came alive, her blue eyes twinkled hearing about their deep history. It had been a long drive the day before, but this had made it all worthwhile.
Things couldn’t have been better, or so I thought. After a wonderful home-cooked lunch, her dad asked me to go to the basement with him. He said he needed to show me something and ask me a very important question. Feeling somewhat apprehensive, I followed him down the narrow steps.
Pulling back a brown tarp he revealed a huge wood slab, telling me its story while showing all the sanding work he had done over the last fifty-five years. His voice quivered a bit as he told me of his dream to make the wood into a table one day, but now, at age 83, he decided it was a dream that will never be realized by him.
Looking up he said, “A long time ago, my father-in-law gave me this as a gift — to one day make it into a table. Now I give it to you. Perhaps you can.”
Somewhat dumbfounded, I asked if he was sure. He replied with a sad look in his eyes, “I’m sure. I’ll never get to it now. Just promise you’ll send me pictures when it’s finished.”
Following him back upstairs, I struggled under the weight, and the responsibility I now carried, but made it back to the kitchen without incident. Upon seeing the wood, The Wife smiled and recounted the story she remembered from when she was six.
They had visited the family farm and had a huge cookout with hot dogs to celebrate the clearing of land for a new garage. And she remembers her dad getting two of the slices and how he would work on sanding it down over the years.
Three days, and another 13-hour drive later, we arrived back home — along with one slice of black oak holding fifty years of memories and a dream still unfulfilled.
The next day I had the wood professionally planed down and sanded smooth. The folks at the Wood Yard said they couldn’t really tell just how old it was but believed it to be 125 to 150 years old. Add to that how long it has been cut down, the wood slice could be over 200 years old!
Right now, we are waiting for wrought iron legs to come in so we can finish the work started on the dream table so long ago.
So, what happen to the second slice of wood? It’s still in her dad’s basement, waiting for its dream to come true. But that’s a story for another time.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]