World Peace Begins At The Kitchen Table
Come on in and sit down for a few minutes at the kitchen table. I was actually just sitting here thinking about kitchen tables as a matter of fact…My oldest son and his family came in to visit from back East for the week and most of us were all together under one roof once more. With all of the space available in the house, I found it fun and familiar that everyone so routinely migrated to the kitchen table. My husband had just sat down at his regular spot one afternoon for coffee and I joined him, sitting at my regular spot. As the coffee and the conversation seemed to call out, one son came to the table and sat down, then another, then another. Pretty soon I noticed we were all sitting there, chatting and laughing for no special reason. Now, that was a Saturday when everyone was relaxed and not under any real pressure to work or leave or meet any other obligations, so it was a gift – and a good break from the norm.
It started my memory wheels turning as I thought back to my dad’s side of the family at the kitchen table. They were always so loud! The only quiet that ever occurred at that meal table was when prayer was being said, but as soon as the “A-men” was whispered, the reaching and hollering and eating started.
There were three sisters and two brothers and when it came time for Sunday supper or holiday dinner, we all crowded around to eat - there was no kid table - we just sat right on top of each other and talked and laughed and reached and jovially, but sincerely, chided one another about elbow room. My grandma rarely sat with us - except for a picture to be taken - as she circled the table throughout the meal, nibbling on one of her own homemade biscuits, making sure that everyone had all they needed. She’d giggle every once in a while at someone’s story or she’d raise an eyebrow over a questionable conversation, but she just kept on circling. When I was little, I used to think there weren’t enough chairs for everyone and that was why she never sat with us. As I got a little older, I thought it was kind of her to make sure we all had enough to eat, what a terrific grandma. Now that I’m all grown up, I realize she circled because she liked being a part of everyone’s life at the kitchen table and a single chair would have limited her to whomever she was sitting by.
My mom’s side of the family also did a lot around the kitchen table. It was a little more refined at their house because THAT grandma of mine wasn’t as tolerant of noise. She liked everything to be.” just so” and all the dishes matched. There was a kid table… not because they didn’t want to include us, but I think because it should just be that way in her eyes. So at those Sunday suppers and holiday dinners, all the noise came from the kids table, with quiet “Shh’s” doled out every once in a while. I’m not scarred from the kid table because we weren’t ignored there. And I don’t diminish all that I loved about that sweet home and its table time. A lot of important conversations went on at that big table at which I sat through the years. Still, now that I have grandkids of my own and can compare - I think it’s better when we’re all smashed together, sitting close. It’s around all the kitchen tables in my life that people have talked true. When you think about it, It’s hard to look someone in the eye, while eating their food and chewing it - and tell a lie. I remember telling some fantastic story of a day in my life around the table when I was a teenager. If it sounded the least bit made up, my table audience would begin to chew slower, lay down their forks one after the other, and lift their water glasses - but not to take a drink. The lifting of the water glass symbolized suspicion of my story. Each family member would hold their dubious position, eyes-only looking over the rim of their glass, until I finished my sentence...which by that time had slowed to a crawl in anticipation of being challenged. This was always a tough spot in which to find myself, as the Storyteller of the moment: should I continue and run the risk of more probing questions (because people love to be right) or just start chewing, myself, and concede defeat? Just better to be forthright I learned, as I got older. They, either side of my family, were a formidable group.
While lying is definitely out, embellishing is welcome and even encouraged. The best stories always get better around the kitchen table, especially when there’s an audience whose giving their full attention to a memory that’s being related. Always unrehearsed, this is the natural place to recount moments in our lives, and in the lives of our family members, with gumption because being together and belonging to a story is something everyone needs - and the kitchen table is one of the first places to re-read the pages of your story. Spreading that news to those around you is as easy as spreading the kitchen table out before some friends or family.
The kitchen table is also the place where serious talks happen. My husband and I have sat at the kitchen table and gone over bills and realized that something in our life needed to change if we were going to survive financially. I remember one set of my grandparents, after hearing sorrowful news, sitting at the kitchen table holding hands, and saying not a word with eyes downcast as they leaned silently on one another. Then another time, at my other grandparent’s table, I remember happily, getting my hair put in curlers so I’d look cute for my aunt’s wedding the next day while we all grazed on the leftover food and laughed and laid out wedding items on that kitchen table between beans and lace and peach cobbler.
Sorrow and joy can come together at the kitchen table, too. On the respective nights of each of my grandma’s funerals, we all sat – two deep - at their kitchen tables, on each other’s laps, or behind each other’s chairs and leaned in to laugh and remember each one and her funny ways till late into the night. It was the best kind of closure – remembering together. I’ve had several solemn talks with some of my own kids at the kitchen table while I folded towels. My busyness with the towels allowed them to tell something hard while we were there together in conversation, but not in opinion.
We’ve welcomed people back home, welcomed people to our family, bid people bon voyage - and said goodbye - from the kitchen table. Holidays wouldn’t be the same on any level without the kitchen table, Christmas gatherings, Easter celebrations, Birthday recognitions and on and on just like at your home. The hub at our house is the kitchen table because it’s where the people who know us best, come together and see us as we are – and we like it that way. Being with those people, elbow to elbow, somehow forges a barrier to the outside world and allows us to be vulnerable, to let down our guard and relax for real.
Maybe it’s more of the kitchen table that people crave in too-busy lives these days. The Kitchen Table answers some of the longings we humans have. For me, it’s the place I want to be when I need to be alone, but not by myself; when I seek comfort, when I want to laugh, when I need to cry, when I have to rejoice, rejuvenate or remember. It’s where we all eat when we’re hungry! Life’s most basic need – met at the kitchen table. And it’s where I get to meet with you!
Take a look at your kitchen table…maybe your own world peace can begin there. Sitting your family down together may be awkward if you haven’t done it in a while, but the short-lived angst can be worth it to get to the comfort level that satisfies part of those daily needs. It doesn’t even have to be dinner. Throw a pie and some coffee down and see what happens!
See you next week…