Flowers on the dining room table

Colorful flowers gather on a homemade tablecloth and old table at Donna’s house in the waning days of summer.

Brian and I were married in 1978; then started housekeeping in a furnished mobile home. Once my husband earned his school-administration credential, then landed his first related position, we moved to a new community and rented a farmhouse.

There, we gathered all the free furnishings we could: a well-used sofa from his folks; a table and chairs from his brother; my childhood four-poster bed sporting Grandma’s much-used mattress (the most comfortable one I ever slept on; wish we still had it) and a small, antique rocking chair from Mom. We didn’t have a lot but we had everything we needed. We were happy as ducks on a country pond.

The move meant I could commute to college full time. We paid cash tuition, leaving us with no college debt, but also with no funds for new furniture nor for much else besides food, rent, and utility bills. We didn’t mind one bit! We had a keen sense of building our future.

Once I finished college, we started feathering our nest with our own choices over what others handed down: a new sofa and matching chair; a new bedroom set the year after that; then in 1985, a new dining room table with two leaves and six chairs. It was pricey and in style.

Never mind that we had no dining room. I barely noticed nor cared about that minor detail. We had space in our rented farmhouse’s family room with its paneled walls and red-brick fireplace. Country-decorating magazines called these spaces “gathering rooms.” At least that’s what I called ours whenever I remembered the term.

When I looked at that dining room set, I saw the rest of our lives spread before us. As we sat down to the table when company came, I imagined all the meals and people who would gather there in the decades ahead. We sat there with baby Sam on his first birthday with his cake and Brian’s parents gathered around the table.

Fast forward to that same table holding his high school graduation refreshments, and later, assembling there for holiday dinners and more birthdays with our now-adult sons. Last month, my church life group sat around two-leaves’ worth of table. Three days later, four writers took notes and talked around the space with one leaf in place.

The other day I thought about how our dining room table is now dated, not a style you see in furniture stores. It wouldn’t bring much at a garage sale. But it has a history, and still serves us well.

Another realization occurred: that table played a large role in directing where we would live, what school our boys would attend, the friends and babysitter we would have. How is that even possible?

When we moved to this area of the state for Brian’s job, we looked at houses. We rejected the one we liked best for a single reason: no place to put our dining room table. Had we moved there, our sons would have gone to a different elementary school than they did, played with kids in another neighborhood and been influenced by a different roster of people in classrooms and in other community roles; all due, when you think about it, to a dining room table.

The table is a reminder that throughout life, we never know what ordinary, even trivial decisions we make, people we meet, or places we go, that change our lives in ways we can’t foresee or imagine. Several seemingly random circumstances resulted in me interviewing at the New Castle paper nearly 32 years ago to the day. I feel it was meant to be.

I think there’s a tendency to think that by the time we’ve reached the workaday finish line at retirement, our lives are set in stone. I found that idea a challenge early in my retirement. I vowed, however, that no matter what happened, I would find new material, new experiences, and purpose in these years.

My retirement began in a peculiar way: caring for an ill husband. No matter how he felt last winter, he insisted that I find ways to be around people, and enjoy life beyond our circumstances – even if it meant a trip no farther than to our study for a Zoom session or to lunch dates with friends at a local diner.

Now, more than eight months into this new era, I’m finding that life is not set in stone! It’s evolving. New things are happening; new goals emerging. I’m co-founder of Writer Chicks writing support group; new member of a church service group; joined a gym, and am working on a big project you’ll hear more about later.

No matter our age or situation in life, we need new connections, new material. No telling where the decisions we make now can lead into the future as we continue to explore this uncharted path called our lives – our next chapters.

On my agenda today? Picking up some flowers at roadside farm stand with an honor box. I’ll put the flowers in a Ball jar at the center of that now-old dining room table.

Some things are worth keeping.

Donna Cronk is retired Neighbors Editor of The Courier-Times. Her Next Chapter column will appear the second and fourth Saturdays each month. She would enjoy continuing the conversation with readers. Email her at newsgirl.1958@gmail.com.

Donna Cronk is retired Neighbors Editor of The Courier-Times. Her Next Chapter column will appear the second and fourth Saturdays each month. She would enjoy continuing the conversation with readers. Email her at newsgirl.1958@gmail.com.