By Regena Handy
Home décor magazines would likely classify my dining table as primitive or possibly rustic. Most people would just call it old. But in my view, it is all and none of these things. It’s a memory table.
We bought it at the family sale after my grandfather died. Its existence was pure luck for the family homeplace had burned to the ground when I was about ten years old. Fortunately, the table was stored in an outbuilding and survived unscathed.
It is the table that my father and his ten surviving siblings grew up around, eating their daily meals. Made of rough boards, dented and pockmarked, nails prominent to the eyesight, it was partially covered in peeling green paint when I bought it.
Being the sawmiller’s daughter that I am with a love for all things wood, I immediately set out to return it to a natural state. My youngest son will declare to this day that I about worked him to death trying to scrape off the old paint.
My mother almost never criticized me or tried to tell me what to do as an adult but she was a little astounded by my plans for the table. One day she dropped by the house while I was scrubbing away at its flaking coat. She watched me for a bit and asked, “So what are you going to do with that when you’re finished?” I answered, “I’m going to use it as our kitchen table.” Her reply was accompanied by a somewhat incredulous gasp. “You know you’re not?!”
I tell this story as a lead-in to kitchen tables in general. The memories they hold, the secrets they could share. The celebrations they’ve seen, the cutting of birthday cakes, carving of the Thanksgiving turkey. The table filled with food delivered by kind friends during times of bereavement.
It is the place where the mundane is discussed, the sharing of simple moments that make up each day. It is where talk about the future occurs, where dreams get revealed, where the big news of the day is thrashed out.
When you remember your childhood home, perhaps like me, you recall that many of the best family moments took place around the table. This was even the case with several favorite TV shows. A prime example is “The Waltons,” three generations talking, laughing, together around the old kitchen table. Even the ever bickering family of “Everybody Loves Raymond” was often gathered at the table; in fact, the final moments from its last show had the group crowded together talking about the need for a larger table.
For most of us, the kitchen table was not just for eating. At my childhood table, I can see my father sitting in his chair at the head of the table, doing paperwork for the timber business or reading the Bible. My mother spread patterns and cloth on the table, using it as a cutting board. Or sometimes, even an ironing board.
For my brothers and me, it was where we did our homework, where our family played dominoes or checkers. And where on a snowy, winter day I spread my entire collection of paper dolls cut from the Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs.
In the years that followed, my own little family did the same in a kitchen that we quickly outgrew. Yet prior to the necessary addition that came later, we had some of our best times there, friends and family crowded around a table that was too small for us all, children perched on someone’s knee, laughter filling every corner of the room.
We often read articles in newspapers and magazines or hear on TV encouragement for families to eat dinner together. Numerous studies show that doing so produces not only nutritional benefits for youth, but also less chance of alcohol and drug dependencies. Time spent together around the dinner table fosters good manners, shows how to conduct conversations, to listen, compromise and solve conflict.
Sure sounds to me like more time spent around the old kitchen table could help with a lot of problems. Something to think about.