Archive for December, 2018

The table, a Christmas tale #7.5

‘The Table,’ a Christmas tale

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


“It is in giving that we receive.”

At the time, I did not realize it would become my most memorable Christmas. I was ten, it was December 20, and I was on angelic-behavior-mode in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. I was traipsing through knee-high snow drifts and blustery winds along near-empty streets with dad.

Near frozen, I remember asking, “Dad, how much longer?”

“One more store and we’ll call it a day,” he said.

The bell jingled when we entered our seventh antique store. Finally, our search was coming to an end.

“Surely, we will find it here,” dad said.

The odor was stale and musty, the wooden floors creaked, and dusty antiques were stacked everywhere. Glass bottles piled on old beds and desks, open chests filled with blankets, and walls lined with bookcases, vanities and cupboards. Chairs, couches, and feather-tick mattresses formed a tunnel to the back of the store, where books, toys, old picture frames, lion-clawed tubs, coat racks, record players, adding machines, file cabinets, and mirrors were displayed and priced. We walked through the “tunnel” and shook the cowbell on the counter.

A jovial voice came from the top of a ladder. “Gentlemen, what brings you out in such wintry conditions?” He descended the ladder and shook dad’s hand. He looked as worn as the antiques. “Last minute shopping?”

“Our daughter will be married on Christmas Day and has asked if the reception could be held in our home. We are looking for a table for the wedding cake, food and wine.”

The old man’s demeanor changed as if a switch had been thrown. He straightened his slumped shoulders, removed, cleaned, and replaced his glasses as his serious stare studied dad.

An uneasiness was building in my stomach.

Following an anxious 30-seconds, dad said, “I too am a collector.”

The man sighed and smiled. “Come, follow me.” He led us down a dark hallway through dimly lit rooms and into his living quarters.

Dad’s gasp startled me. He was staring at a table in the center of the room.

“It has passed through generations of antique dealers and collectors of fine treasures.”

Tentatively, dad reached out and touched the table.

“It may be two thousand years old.”

“It must be priceless,” dad whispered.

“It has never been bought or sold and has passed selectively from collector to collector.”

“And why is that?”

“Because of its origin,” he said, softly.

“Touch it,” Dad said to me.

Its alabaster finish was dull, but its ancient grain ran the length of the table. Six legs formed from hand-hewn timbers were bound to the table with wooden dowels.

“Surely it was fashioned by a master carpenter,” dad said.

The man did not respond.

“We want to do something special for our daughter’s wedding…but in truth this is beyond our means.”

Again, the man did not respond.

* * * *

On Christmas day, our family gift exchange took place early in order to prepare for my sister’s wedding. The table had been delivered and stood in our living room adorned with gifts, food, and wine. It was, in a word, magnificent.

Later in the day, after guests had departed, and my sister and her husband had left for their honeymoon, dad and the antique collector sat at the table drinking wine.

Dad said, “Thank you.”

“It has been a part of my family for many years,” the collector said, “and has witnessed celebrations of birth and death, baptism and wedding, happiness and sadness. Many generations of families have sat at this table to express thanks for daily bread and to thank God for His many blessings.”

Then, he said to dad, “Have you ever owned such a gift?”

Dad laughed. “Never.”

“This is the table that was used for the wedding feast at Cana when Mary, Mother of Jesus, asked him to perform his first public miracle.”

Dad and I stared at him; mesmerized.

“Jesus’ foster father was Joseph the carpenter. Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph took the Child and Mary to Egypt to escape the proclamation of Herod to kill the first-born child of every family.

“During Christ’s childhood, Joseph taught his son the skills of carpentry. And one of the lasting mementos of that father-son relationship was this table. When Jesus returned to Jerusalem, he brought the table with him by donkey and cart. It is said that he encountered a man of God who believed that a savior would one day bring peace and love into the world. Jesus was so taken by the man’s steadfast faith that He gave him the table as a gift, cautioning him, however, that it was to pass only to others who held his strong beliefs in salvation.

“Further, each owner was to carve his initials on the bottom of the table. And finally, the table was to be used at celebrations throughout the coming generations.”

Finally, the collector said to my dad, “I now pass this table to you.”

“I am honored,” Dad said softly. “But, when did you carve your initials into the wood?”

“This morning.”

“How did you know?”

“I just…knew.”

“There are two carvings in the center of the table,” dad said.

“One is the Aramaic symbol used by Joseph to identify his work as a master carpenter,” the man said. “The other is the sign of the fish, first used by Jesus of Nazareth. They would have carved those symbols by their own hands.”

Dad leaned under the table and gently touched the engraved symbols. “I accept this table and all that it represents,” he said, as if speaking to all whose initials had been carved.

* * **

Dad passed away last Christmas…just after he passed the table to me. Yes, I’ve looked. His initials are there. But so is something else. Something I had not previously noticed. After each set of initials, carved ever so small, is the date the table was passed to a new collector. An uneasiness builds in my stomach every time I think about it. In each case the date is the same…December 25th!

* * * *

The Christmas season is magical. There is no other time whereby people share their time, wealth, compassion, friendship, and love for one another as they do during the season of the Christ child. With this thought in mind, I wish for each of you the merriest and holiest of Christmas’.

Thanks for reading,


John Preston Smith is the author of The Legend of the Last Dog. All of his books are listed at Questions or comments: Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

Not all animals…#7

Not all animals exist to please humans

By John Preston Smith – Contributing columnist


In addition to dogs, there were other animals I encountered while working at Animal TV Trainers in Washington, DC. From 1963 to 1966. Margays and Ocelots are not the size of big cats, still, a deep scratch, bite, or pounce from a 50 to 100-pound cat be tragic. As a trainer, it did not take long to learn that wild cats are not trained, rather they are tamed.

Skunks are great pets. BUT, be sure to start with one that is de-sacked. I made the mistake of purchasing one that was supposed to be…wasn’t…and four stores on 14th street in downtown Washington closed that day.

My Boa was named Noah. If you could straighten him out he’d push six and a half feet. Some snakes will not eat in captivity, Noah was one. Once a week I’d have a lottery-drawing of white mice. I’d take the chosen one by the tail, whack him on the counter to knock him out, and then force-feed him to Noah. The force-feed part sounds easy. It wasn’t, especially if Noah was moody. While Noah wrapped his body around mine, I’d force his mouth open, and with the eraser-end of a pencil, I’d push the whacked-out mouse down his throat.

Birds are easy to train based on one concept. They always walk to the highest point. Therefore, scaling a ladder, traversing a tight rope, or walking from your arm to your shoulder is an easy trick, all based on the ‘highest point’ theory. Our ‘shop bird’ was a Military Macaw by the name of Ole Momma. Her wingspan was over three feet, and she could bend a small piece of metal with her beak. When she was out of her cage, she rested on a T-bar with a do not touch sign attached. She was a major attraction.

Ignoring the sign, a know-it-all lady reached up to pet the chest of Ole Momma, who immediately jumped on the lady’s wrist while squawking and wildly flapping her wings. Aghast, the woman dropped her arm, trying to shoo the big bird away. Ole Momma would have none of it. Based on the highest point theory, she skirted up the lady’s arm, to her shoulder, and removed an earring while the lady screamed, and our customers applauded, thinking we were providing entertainment. I retrieved Ole Momma while pointing to the ‘do not touch’ sign. The woman ran out of the store and never returned.

Note: It’s not just the “do not” touch signs in pet shops that people have trouble with. I’ve come to realize that the words “do not” are somehow offensive to the human psyche. Those two words seem to challenge us, turn us into super-beings, and let lose within us an uncontrollable force of opposition. Other challenging examples that humans slave over; do not enter, do not turn, do not smoke, do not take drugs, do not lie, do not jay walk, do not text, do not kill your neighbor.

Mynah birds are conundrums. They can talk, whistle, and find the smallest sun flower seed at the bottom of the food bowl. They are loud, outspoken, and they sling food everywhere. Note: always teach birds to talk before teaching them to whistle. If first taught to whistle it is near impossible to get them to talk.

Chimps are a challenge. Back in ’63, exotic pets were not difficult to bring in to the US. We ordered one for a client and three months later a four-foot square wooden crate arrived at the shop. Hester had been boxed up for 48 hours, and from the sounds inside the crate, he was not a happy camper. At 70 pounds, he obviously was not the baby we ordered, rather he was at least two years old. I was given the challenge to uncrate him, and, knowing that God never created a monkey that wouldn’t bite at maturity, I was sweating profusely. I tried verbal enticement, food, and water. He wouldn’t budge.

Finally, out of desperation, I balled my hand into a fist, and reached in. He grabbed my fist and put it in his mouth. I immediately realized this was not an act of aggression, if so, he could have taken my hand off. I leaned in the crate and soothingly, talked to him. The stalemate was on.

Fifteen minutes later, he released my hand, bounded from the crate and jumped into my arms. Hester and I became best buds until he had to leave for his new home.

Lastly, I want to tell you about Boomer, an attract-trained Doberman Pinscher. My boss told the client that I had a special knack with dogs and that I could de-synthesize the big dog. Boomer belonged to a local policeman, who had been shot on a drug bust. The cop was forced into retirement but could keep his dog. He had heard of the work my boss had accomplished with dogs and asked for our help. About midnight one evening, I was working with Boomer on 14th street when gunshots shattered storefront windows and burglar alarms screamed.

I froze, until Boomer started pulling me in the direction of the gunfire. He wasn’t in a hurry. Each step seemed measured and calculated. A team of horses couldn’t have held him back.

Two men burst through the broken windows of a jewelry store and skidded to a stop as flashing lights and sirens approached. I don’t know where my voice came from because at the time I was scared to the point of…well, you know. “Get ‘em” I yelled as I dropped the leash. He lunged for the criminals.

The first crook saw Boomer, screamed, threw his gun at the dog and jumped up on the roof of a pickup truck with his hands in the air. Airborne, Boomer knocked the second crook across the hood of a Volkswagen and into the path of the oncoming cop cars. He then jogged back to me, head held high, as if to say, “my master retired, but not me.”

Yeah, I know. This column was supposed to be about animals other than dogs…but, I just couldn’t keep myself from telling you about Boomer!

Thanks for reading, John

John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at Questions or comments: Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia.