While our two kids were growing up, Madelyn and I made a concerted effort to sit down to family dinner every night, and most nights we made it. Whether it was midweek leftovers or sunday evening pork chops we sat down together at our kitchen island. Carlyn was often straight from swimming and shaking with hunger and Luke bruised and silent after wrestling. The meals were not always cheery and bright and, in fact, they often began with someone out sorts about a broken friendship or challenge at work, but it sees that by the end of most meals we were telling stories or chatting in the warm circle of a tight little family.
Now my kids are gone and usually there is just two of us at the table, but when there are more, whether the kids, relatives or friends I want to be able to gather people around it for a meal. With that in mind, this year we got a new table because the one we have is too small for that. A drop leave family heirloom of hard-rock maple passed on to my daughter, and I went in search of a table that would seat four or six and extend with leaves to feed ten. We have no formal dining room, so the table had to fit in the common area between the living room and kitchen and support everything from sewing projects to Christmas Eve dinner.
I found a nice birch table on Craigslist that seats six and with the leaf we can squeeze in ten. We found a bench for seating on one side and then four chairs that complemented the light birch finish; we hung a copper light fixture above for accent. On Thanksgiving, our family-- now six adults and two children -- gathered around the new table comfortably, and the warmth of food and family stories filled the house. Through the many dinners of the holidays, I am reminded that when we bring people together around food, elbow to elbow around a table; the conversation is different from when people are squatting around the living room eating off their laps or scattered about at card table from the hall to the back porch. That’s not about gathering; that’s about eating.
This week, my sisters visited with a niece and her husband. Nine of us gathered around the dinner table, three generations. We reminisced about Mom’s pink Pyrex casserole that I served the escalloped potatoes in and gaped at four year old Sawyer, who wanted to eat everyone’s broccoli. Somehow, the conversation turned to ice skating and my sisters and I relived our childhood when we hiked out to the frozen pond in the muskeg behind our our house for ice skating and how miserable and cold we were in those torturous leather figure skates. “With an experience like that, no wonder Dan never wanted to go ice skating,” Madelyn said. When my grandson was itchy to leave the table, Aunt Amy leaned over said, “Ok, but your going to miss all the good stories.” Later that evening, the same table was spread with a mountain of skirts Madelyn had made as she and my the sisters pawed through them.
The new table rests nearly in the center of my house, and in a few short months it has come this heart of our home. Here, stories are told over coffee and cake, puzzles are completed or abandoned, quarrels resolved, and appetites sated. Here I can write and watch football at the same time; Madelyn can cut sewing projects while I make lunch. Here friends gather like hunters around a campfire. It was all just as I had planned when I bought the table. A home needs a table that invites people to gather for meals, and other food for the soul. I didn’t invent the idea; I grew up with it, but it is a good one. I know, you want to tell me that the table is just an iconic centerpiece, a place to meet, representation of my love of family, and I can only say, “Of course it is. That’s the point.”