Gramdfather’s Magic Old Oak Table

What had once been the dining room of my Grandparent’s cottage had, now that Grandfather was alone in his last years, been restyled to become his bedroom. The old round oak table with room for six or seven people was retained, but it too, although made of oak, had aged to become almost black in color. Grandfather left open dictionaries on it, together with piles of books, blotters of various colors, and quantities of red and yellow pencils. He didn’t leave things just lying about, though: all the articles were carefully placed. He loved the table with a jealous affection. He wanted to give the impression that several people sat and worked together at the table.

When I visited he wouldn’t let me touch it, or even stretch out my hand toward it. That would have amounted to handling an object imbued with magic, like a flying carpet, and perhaps destroying its power. Three Quinquet oil lamps (converted to electricity) [1]  were on the table placed in a triangle indicating three places as in a library reading room. When Grandfather sat in the first place with his back to the wall, he suddenly became a red-nosed old monk with magnifying spectacles, working at a Latin manuscript with gray-mittened hands. When he sat facing the window he was an Assyrian deciphering a slab of clay, conjuring up the days when the language of Sumer was still spoken, when women were beautiful and manners gentle and friendly.

But when he sat with his back to the bed, he became a Chinese mandarin slowly smoothing out a little silk handkerchief, and while mixing ink he dreamed of the face of the woman he had loved.

While it’s true that I don’t have ‘definite’ proof that the table was responsible for Grandfather’s transformations; in fact I don’t even have any ‘fairly definite’ proof that the old oak table had any magic powers whatsoever. Nevertheless I’m positive that it wasn’t that Grandfather was senile or that I had an overworked imagination, rather it was that the table had over time acquired an enabling magic and that’s why Grandfather wouldn’t allow me to touch it.

 The Argand lamp is home lighting oil lamp producing a light output of 6 to 10 candlepower which was invented and patented in 1780 by Aimé Argand. Aside from the improvement in brightness, the more complete combustion of the wick and oil required much less frequent snuffing (trimming) of the wick. In France, they are known as “Quinquets” after Antoine-Arnoult Quinquet, a pharmacist in Paris, who used the idea originated by Argand and popularized it in France. He is sometimes credited with the addition of the glass chimney to the lamp.


Bicycles too, have an appetite.

When we entered the kitchen, she pointed at a few, of what appeared to be, tiny cookie crumbs on the floor near the stove. Within inches of the crumbs there was a very faint, damp, rapidly fading expression of a bicycle tire. She observed, “In a poem Emily Dickinson asked,

‘Is there not a sweet wolf within us that demands its food?’”

I answered, “Emily’s right, but she forgot to mention that her sweet wolf has a greedy appetite, and too, it likes to eat between meals!”

It should be recognized that some bicycles, those rare ones with a high Homo sapiens content, are very cunning and entirely remarkable. One never sees them moving by themselves; they sometimes unaccountably disappear, and sometimes are unexpectedly met in the least accountable of places. I looked directly into her green eyes and asked, rhetorically, “Did you ever see a bicycle leaning against a cupboard in a warm kitchen when it is pouring rain outside?”  “I did,” I said in answer to my own question.

            “Not very far from the stove?” she frowningly wondered.


            “Near enough to the family to hear the conversation,” she inquired further.

            “I suppose so.”

            “Not a thousand miles from where they kept the eatables?”

I responded with a “I didn’t notice,” Then, I suddenly understood the meaning of her questioning, “Good Lord, you don’t mean to say that you believe that bicycles eat food?” I admonished her, “They have never been seen doing it; nobody has ever caught them with a mouthful of seedy cake.”

“All I know is that food disappears,” she told me confidentially.


“This is not the first time I’ve noticed crumbs in front of the wheels of some of these gentlemen. . . .”

It is quite true, I had not noticed that the crumbs were significant, nor had I attributed to them any attributes of spookiness. Only she had a bit of apprehension of what was going on in this fearsomely infractional house.