In 1898, my Great-Great-Grandfather Michael Aloysius Sheehan, a small but tough Irishman known for boxing and raising horses, brought a beautifully crafted walnut table home to his wife Frances Jeannette Sheehan – my namesake. He had originally attempted to cart it home from Rantoul, Illinois to rural Ludlow, Illinois, but a wheel on his cart had busted. So, Grandpa Mike had to strap the table onto the top of his old chestnut colored horse and walk 12 miles on muddy roads to their small home just outside the little town of Ludlow.
The table that he would then deliver to his wife, whom everyone lovingly called Mamie, would stay in my family for generations. His son Ed, nicknamed Buzz for how fast he would talk, was known for sitting and telling stories at this table to anyone who would listen, smoking an old Marlboro and drinking beer upon beer. Buzz would wax on prophetically for hours over the table his mother had started house-keeping with.
Eventually, Buzz gifted the table to his son Ed, my grandfather. Ed would marry Barbara and the two of them would host many a card party (the two of them were sharks!) on that table. The only moments that my grandparents weren’t bickering with one another during their 70 married years were when they were playing cards on the family table.
All of my family holiday dinners were served on it: Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even birthdays. My grandmother would always carefully cover it with a plastic sheet and then her beautiful tablecloths, taking great care to keep it pristine. If I close my eyes tightly and concentrate, I can still hear her unwrapping the green plastic sheet she would put on it before each big meal.
When I was in high school, and could finally drive on my own, I would visit my grandparents frequently, and quite often sit visiting with them around it. My grandma would be drinking coffee, always black, or very stout lemonade, while my grandpa sat across the room in his chair reading the newspaper. It was at one of these visits that my grandma told me that she and grandpa wanted each of us grandchildren to tell them what we wanted of theirs in the house so that someday they could will it to us. Before I could think about how sad this idea was, I blurted out: “This table, I would really like to have this table.”
Even at the age of 16, when I was full of myself and the self-centered fuel of youth. I knew that this table was special – not because it was an antique, but because of its pivotal place within our family. In some ways, it had been the center of many main events and goodness do I wish it could tell all the stories it must surely know.
A couple of days ago, my mother had to move my grandpa, a veteran of the WWII Pacific Theatre, to a memory care facility. This transition was difficult for many reasons, but most especially because of the complications that COVOID-19 holds for people in elderly care facilities. My grandpa hates to be alone and is now extremely confused. He barely remembers my mother on his good days, and now he is somewhere completely new, and my mom will not be able to visit due to strict visitation rules in this current moment. It is a hard time for many, and a heartbreaking moment for my family.
I was at work, helping a student with an essay when a text flashed through on my phone. Normally, I do not take my phone to class. However, with everything that has been going on, I have been taking it with me more and more. I looked down to see a note from my mother and told my student I needed to check and make sure if everything was okay really fast, and, of course, my student told me that was fine.
My mom’s words were short, but they moved me greatly: “Your table is waiting for you when you are ready.”
Now, if I didn’t know what table she had meant, I could have assumed she had made reservations for me somewhere cool…which would have been strange since she lives an entire state away, but a neat bold move.
Yet, I knew exactly what she was talking about. She had moved the table from Grandpa’s assisted living facility, back to her home in Mahomet. It now sits and waits for me. Grandpa Mike and Grandma Mamie’s table is alone for the moment, in the basement of my grandparent’s old home, now my parent’s house, waiting for Joe and I to collect it and bring it to Iowa.
This trip will not be made by horse, but instead by motor vehicle almost 122 years later. I know that in our home, the table will also be the center of many family dinners, card parties, and holidays. I also know that every time I sit around it, I will feel like I am at home.