At the end of the meal he'd push back his chair, and reach for the pipe he kept in his flannel shirt pocket. Then out came a pouch of Prince Albert, and despite his big square-ended fingers, and rough work-to-do hands, he was an elegant man. He'd fill the pipe with fine-cut leaf, thoughtfully tamp it, and light, with a single match. I'd lean forward eager to blow it out like it was my birthday. Once his pipe was lit and a few mandatory smoke rings blown, just for us, he'd begin: "When I was just a little kid, maybe four-years old out on the farm in Seminole, my Daddy had just bought a brand new plow, and it was in a box in our shed. My Daddy remembers finding me there, sitting with that box open, every piece of the plow's parts scattered around me, and me determined to put it together." This was a good story, because my Granddad was a gifted inventor/ machinist. His stories were good: cyclones taking the top off their house and losing his youngest sister; the Great Depression and Granddad deciding to leave the farm and, set off with his cousin Clarence to college, a first for his family; the eight brothers of his father Roy, and the cruel hand of his Grandfather John Wilson. They were always about family,”your relations” as he would say. Grandma would listen, adding a reminder or detail now and then. She was quite the storyteller herself, but her stories were told one on one, privately, for us alone, woman to girl. They were cautionary tales: stories of great pathos from her life with seven sisters, Oklahoma during the Depression, and her young married life. At table, Grandma provided the traditional Southern food-- fried chicken, milk gravy and biscuits. My Granddad provided the stories, while we, my brothers, cousins and I ate it up.
“They all know the truth, that there are only three subjects worth talking about. At least here in these parts," he says, "The weather, which, as they're farmers, affects everything else. Dying and birthing, of both people and animals. And what we eat - this last item comprising what we ate the day before and what we're planning to eat tomorrow. And all three of these major subjects encompass, in one way or another, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, the physical sciences, history, art, literature, and religion. We get around to sparring about all that counts in life but we usually do it while we're talking about food, it being a subject inseparable from every other subject. It's the table and the bed that count in life. And everything else we do, we do so we can get back to the table, back to the bed.” ― Marlena de Blasi, A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure
Table for Story linage
The kitchen table has always been the place for storytelling in my family. From the day to day accounting of what you did and who you saw, to the back and forth play of memories around a topic. I grew up hearing my Grandparents stories of our linage told after supper. I thought that all children knew who their great great grandparents by name, and where they’d come from. My grandfather’s stories were more about clan, the remembering of who and where, while my grandmother used stories to teach to any given situation.
Table for Cultural legacy
Sitting down to meals together was a big priority raising my children. Our stories together were of a different flavor than I grew up with, more about transmitting culture, than clan. We talked about books, music, ideas, and psychology. Still using story, and personal experience as analogy and metaphor in discovering ourselves together.
Table for relationships
I tend to tell my stories like my Grandmother, as medicine. I discovered when my children were quite young that having tea together created a place at the table to sit, and let them talk to me. A place to slow down, share and listen. It was different, set off and special from the larger family meal. When they come home now the first thing we do is make tea, sit down to tell our stories, and catch up.
Table for intimacy
The table is as important as the bed in married life. My husband and I have a ritual of meeting every morning for breakfast, and it’s our big meal of the day. We eat, drink a pot of tea and talk for an hour. It’s especially the time for non- mundane talk between us. We'll explore ideas, tell our dreams, recount stories, delve into the big questions, and ponder other peoples' problems. We both have busy lives, so this is a big connection place for us, the kitchen table.
Table for friendship
I usually invite friends over rather than go out, and make them little meals. I love time with friends, the talking over an afternoon cup of tea with a best girlfriend. Or with a small group late into the night, letting darkness envelop a room as we discuss the this and that, soul talk stories of our lives, the laughter and tears of the kitchen table.
The table supports the dishes, that hold the food, that nourish us as we break the bread, and share our lives.
Other posts to enjoy
Food Shorts Audio: Good Companions Aired Sunday7/3/2016 Hot tea, milk, steamed eggs, sourdough rye toast, honey, cream cheese. A morning campfire, orange flames, blue tinge, smoke curling...