A daily ritual scarcely ever practiced in homes these days is the family meal. Like my family growing up the head of my household, me does not make it home I time for dinner with the children. This is less of an issue for me these days as my children are now mostly adults. Of course I also have only three, compared to the six in my childhood home.
With three, and now just down to one person to feed the process of dinner is much simpler than with six. When six young mouths needed feeding there had to be a lot of food. This in turn meant there had to be significant serving dishes and spoons and of course this meant that everyone needed to be seated around a table.
Ours was a house full of chores. One of my brothers recounted for his kids the other night the story of our days of summer in which my Mom would head out to play tennis in the morning and we boys were left to get the house clean, laundry done and lunches made. The longer this took us the later we got on the road to the beach, which was our heaven back then.
One of the many chores in our household was setting the table for evening dinner. Mostly done for organizational purposes (making sure there were enough forks and knives clean), it also set the stage for one of the most important family rituals of my life.
We went through several styles of placemats. Our kitchen table started out as picnic table brought inside and painted yellow to match the decor. This created enough room for us when we were younger but my parents eventually bought a dark stained table and matching chairs. This too was eventually painted, by yours truly, with about a hundred coats of white glossy paint. Once thusly covered it became pretty much indestructible and I believe it sits again in my Mother's dining room having undergone yet another make over. The chairs fared much less well. We were tortuous to them. Leaning back, jockeying around and the constant pushing in and pulling out. In all the years given the glossy nature of the surface, we rarely used table cloths and thus all the placemats. We had green, yellow, burgundy, blue. We had thick woven fabric, plastic (it was the seventies after all) and plain. They were rectangles, and ovals and of varied sizes, but there were always six. B1 at the head of the table on one end and me at the other. My sister slotted in usually to my right in a high chair at first. Brothers 3 through 5 filled in around the long oval at places set by one of us just minutes before.
As if as a throw back to more formal times, each place was set with knife, fork and spoon. A glass for milk and of course a napkin, usually paper, but always folded under the knife and fork. In today's kitchen this would appear to be a table set for company but in our house it was an everyday affair. As a result I can tell you the right way to set a table and when presented with a complex set up at a fancy restaurant we are all perfectly comfortable with the place setting.
There is something very comforting in the memories of family meals and those of daily chores. Whether setting the table for dinner each night, or cleaning the pots and pans afterwards these activities brought us together in that holiest of rooms, the kitchen. This morning as we make our way up highways toward the city I am thinking about our upcoming family separation at
Easter. The older girls have both had break already with leaves just three of us to head to California on Saturday. We will however all have a chance to be together on Friday so I'm thinking it's time to set the table.
And that makes me happy.