Recently, my brother told me he was putting the old family ping pong table out for his upcoming garage sale. After more than forty years in the family, the old ping pong table is going to either the first person to pay the asking price or the first person who makes “a better offer”. I suspect it will go to the first person willing to clear it out of the garage.
I’m going to miss that table.
It was heavy duty, made of plywood and two-by-four boards. That’s the only way ping pong tables were made back in the early decades of the last century. It was sturdy. It was not necessarily portable like the lightweight, folding game tables that you see today.
It was at least forty years old when we acquired it in the early 1970s from a friend of my mother. This friend wanted to clear space in her attic, and thought our family might enjoy playing the game at our house.
To accommodate the table, we had to remove a wall between two rooms in the first floor of our house. That job in and of itself was a story to share.
It was Thanksgiving 1970. We had come home from a dinner with aunts, uncles, and cousins at my Grandma’s house. After changing into work clothes, my whole family: brother, sister, Mom, Dad, and I attacked the wall between the two rooms. I never saw so much dust and plaster in my life as we sledge-hammered our way through the wall and emptied about a dozen trash cans of plaster onto a trailer bound for the dump.
I remember the exact day because after about two hours of bull work, we all cleaned up, and watched the television premier of the movie Oklahoma. According to Wikipedia, that night was November 27, 1970.
We let the dust settle in that corner of our house on Friday. We spent that day after Thanksgiving engaged in the holiday tradition of Christmas shopping. I think we also bought some ping pong paddles and a net to cross the center of the table.
On Saturday, after a few runs with the mop, the room was prepared for painting. We did that project again as a family. I recall it didn’t take long for us to paint the walls. Nothing takes too long when you’re dedicated to the mission. Our mission was to play ping pong.
By Sunday, my Dad and brother set up the ping pong table. Our family then began learning and playing the game. Over the next few years, the table provided lots of competition among family and friends.
When I think about that old ping pong table, I think about the games. I think about waiting my turn to take on the winner of the game I was watching. I remember wanting to hold onto my winner’s spot for as many games as possible. My older brother won most of the games. I recall playing doubles, always with one of our family of five having to sit out the game while the other four went into battle. I remember gentle lofts of the ball coming over the net only to be slammed back so fast the opposing player had no way of returning the shot.
But I also remember how getting ready for that ping pong table became a true family endeavor. The whole family got involved in making space available so that the table could be set up. We all worked to prepare the room. And we all played the game together.
We took the table down after a few years once the novelty of the game wore off. Dad insulated and paneled the room, turning it into his den. He had his desk there. He built a sewing table for Mom and she moved her sewing machine into the room. The ping pong table was stored in the barn behind the house.
Several years later, my brother set up the table in the basement of his house shortly after he got married. The game of ping pong was revived for a few more years until the space was needed to store firewood.
And now, in a few weeks, some other family may take it home, and start new memories of ping pong and family time.
I hope they have as much fun with that ping pong table as my family had when it was part of my life growing up.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced