Mary and I have begun thinking about retirement. Not that it’s going to happen this year or next but we tend to be planners. Okay, make that dreamers, for those who know us well and have smirks on your faces.
We watch a lot of home shows, particularly those that involve fixing up older properties. We have always been DIY types and as we get older it’s more fun to watch someone else do the heavy lifting.
One of the trends I’ve noticed over the last several years is the practice of ‘antiquing.’ And while that term used to refer to going forth in search of furniture that was actually antique, more and more these days it refers to the practice of taking sandpaper and screwdrivers to perfectly good wooden furniture and cabinetry, roughing edges and creating dings and gouges in the attempt to make the piece appear old and well used.
Which, of course it is not and the fakery is easily discernable to anyone who actually knows anything about woodworking or who simply appreciates old wood furnishings. I admit to being perplexed at this whole idea of ruining perfectly good finishes in an attempt to make the new appear old.
Anyway, all of the above is background to what I really wanted to share.
A book I was reading made reference to a gathering table and it reminded me of a piece I’d seen being built for the client on one of the shows we watch. True to form, the TV woodworker made this gorgeous table of reclaimed (old with gorgeous, widely figured grain) wood, really fine work. And then, at the behest of the designer – the TV host – he applied his tools of destruction to make it appear old and worn.
I just don’t get it and this gathering table is a perfect example of the reasons for my disquiet.
You can google ‘gathering table’ if you like but the first several pages of offerings will simply add to your confusion. You might be led to believe the term embraces a multitude of styles, materials, periods and price points. The offerings you’ll see are either high or low, round or rectangle or square, fancy or plain, ready-made or some-assembly-required. And of course, there’s the question of finish. Fine or fake, smooth or ‘antiqued,’ paint or stain or even (Gawd, I can hardly even type this one without cringing) anodized aluminum.
There are those who will themselves cringe at what I’m about to say – those who believe words carry the evolving meaning of the moment and that I should just get over myself. In the hope that you’ll forgive me, I admit to believing that words and phrases have inherent meaning and even though they change over time through usage they still retain the core elements of that meaning.
A gathering table is what it sounds like. It is a piece of furniture with a flat top around which people gather to do work together. Work such as assembling a communal dinner or sorting things. Or the more usual meaning, that of a table used for gathering signatures in books. They can indeed be quite different in size and shape, material and finish. So for example, a turn of the century (1800s-1900s, that is) farmhouse gathering table would be large and sturdy and working height (counter height rather than desk height in modern terms). A gathering table that served people signing guest books and dropping off gifts for a wedding reception might be lower, smaller, and more finely crafted. Still, they are gathering tables, tables for gathering.
The pieces that I imagine when I use the term may indeed show their age but if so, it’s from long use rather than artificial scoring. The bumps should be from heavy items set down awkwardly, not by application of screwdriver or peen. And the missing finish should convey the story of thousands of touches. Human touches, not sandpaper. I know, I’m an old Fudd and you can almost hear the ‘Harrumph’ following that last sentence. And after all, who anointed me the king of gathering tables?
I suppose I’m on this rant in part because of the penchant these days among politicos and others for egregiously misusing language. Where do we get terms like ‘alternative facts?” And no, this is not aimed at any person or group in particular.
Emerging meanings and usages should add to the precision and beauty of language, not detract from it.
Antiques are old things, facts are demonstrably true things.
Words have meanings.