Getting a leg up on ills of the family, furniture variety


The table was wobbling and so was the household. Sickness had kept the kids home from school and had played havoc with the grown-ups' work schedules.

I found myself fulfilling old promises at unusual hours. I washed a sweater right after breakfast. I helped the marooned fifth-grader with his math homework as I cooked lunch. And during a seemingly endless card game with the 8-year-old, I vowed to fix a rickety table.

The unsteady table was an end table from Hawaii. It was made of wood from the monkeypod or rain tree. Years ago, an uncle stationed in Honolulu shipped two of the end tables and companion coffee table to my wife's family in western Kansas. Unaccustomed to the dry heat of the plains, the coffee table of tropical wood had cracked. But the end tables not only weathered the trip across the Pacific but also withstood moves from Kansas, Illinois and Kentucky before landing in Maryland.

The egg-shaped tables took up their three-point stance in our family room, wedged between the sofas and chairs. There they supported, as end tables do, the artifacts of family life. They collected stacks of newspapers, held glasses of milk and bottles of beer and, from time to time, even served as the resting place for the remote control of the nearby television set. Finding the remote control on one of the monkeypod tables was remarkable because that was where, according to a seldom-obeyed edict, the device was supposed to reside.

The tables also bore the weight of an untold number of children. For some reason, children sit on tables. Mine, which I think are fairly typical of the species, like to throw their clothing on chairs and their bottoms on tabletops. A regular verse of my parental chorus, along with "Shut the door!" and "Stop shouting!" is "Don't sit on the table."

One day when I wasn't there or when I wasn't looking, a kid sat on one of the monkeypod tables, and a leg cracked.

No one reported that a piece of furniture had gone down. But one night after the kids had gone to bed, I noticed that one of the monkeypod tables had changed its posture.

Ordinarily the back legs of the table were as rigid as a soldier at parade rest. But now they looked like the legs of a teen-ager in perpetual slouch. I added the wavering table to the list I keep in my head of things that need fixing.

I didn't get around to taking any action on the table until I was trapped in card games with my son, who was home from school with an earache. After several contested games of "21," I was ready to move on to other duties . . . I spotted the swaying table nearby. It was my escape from the tyranny of "21."

I picked the table up and was able to lure the 8-year-old down to the basement with the promise that soon we were going to "break out the glue."

First we broke out the sandpaper, medium grade, and worked over the surfaces that we were going to glue. A piece of the leg had broken loose. Fixing the table would first require gluing the chip back in place, then gluing the restored leg to the table.

We used a bottle of carpenter's glue. Later I read that carpenter's glue is an aliphatic resin glue that can also be used on other porous surfaces like leather, felt and cork. Such claims of versatility do not interest me. All I ask from a bottle of carpenter's glue is that the applicator isn't clogged and that the glue isn't in an awful hurry to grab something.

That turned out to be the case with this glue. When the glue was still wet, I put on a clamp to hold the pieces of table leg in place. But pressure from the clamp knocked the two pieces out of line. So I took the clamp off, pressed the wood back in place, and told myself that gluing wood had a lot in common with raising kids. You apply pressure. You ease up. You learn as you go.

I let the glued-together table leg dry for 24 hours. There were two reasons I let it sit this long. First, I wanted to be sure that the chipped piece was firmly in place. Second, I had to get to work. Shortly after I finished gluing the two pieces together, my wife arrived from her office and ferried the kids to the doctor. Freed from domestic duties, I fled to my office.

After a day or so, antibiotics had returned the kids to good health. A second gluing, this one fixing the leg to table bottom, had returned the table to its even keel.

The table and the family were back on their feet.

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