In August of 2009, my parents’ property was hit by a tornado. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, but everyone in the area had significant clean up and several households had to relocate for weeks and months while their house was set right. Mom and Dad were lucky—they had a few loose shingles, but the house itself was okay and they were safe, which is the thing that really matters, of course.
The three-acre lot on which they live was a disaster, however…. Tornados can be strangely specific in their destruction. Boats were thrown across county roads, but at the end of the storm, birdfeeders hung where they’d always hung. The grandkids’ swing set was hurled the length of a football field and across a road into a wooded area. Its yellow plastic slide twisted in a way that almost hurt to look at. Later, Dad left the slide in the hot sun and then twisted it back into shape—that slide is on the rebuilt swing set today.
A lot of trees went down. In a row of thirteen tall pines at the edge of their property, four leaned at a 45 degree angle. They were pushed back up and staked down in their original tall straight position. Two have died over the last decade. But two have lived.
The woods on their property were thinned significantly. Oak and cherry, elm and poplar, box elder and maple trees went down. One of the big losses, a giant oak, fell and was caught in the top of another tree, necessitating professional help to get it down safely. It was at least two feet in diameter and straight and tall as could be—a huge loss.
Mom and Dad were determined to make something of all the destruction. Once the big oak and other large trees were safely down, they hired a man with a portable sawmill to come to their property on a Saturday. He ran his giant band saw much of the day, his huge beard filling with sawdust as he worked. Mom wishes she’d taken a picture of that.
In the end, they were left with gifts from the trees that had grown for decades on their property. Long, straight, sturdy planks, and strong 6”x6” timbers. The oak timbers became the posts in the covered timber frame structure they built next to a brick pizza/bread oven they were in the middle of constructing when the tornado hit. Beautiful cherry planks line the ceiling of that structure.
In addition, Dad took the twenty-foot long planks from the big oak and made a rustic table and a couple of benches. A cherry plank became a narrower bench—for smaller grandkid bottoms. The under-supports for the table and benches are made from the scraps of the demolished swing set. (Most of the grandkids only remember playing on the “new” swing set.)
This is the story of the table that Grandad built. It is over twenty feet long and has room for the seven grandkids and their parents and grandparents…and anyone else who drops by, as well! Its rustic beauty is accentuated by its history.
Melanie Heuiser Hill is the author of Around The Table That Grandad Built, a picture book illustrated by Jaime Kim and published by Candlewick Press.