Times at the Table: Creating Rituals, Creating Traditions
I wipe the table at the start of the day. I clear any leftover cups and bowls and put them in the sink to clean after breakfast. Then I put the tea pot on. The teal one that does not whistle correctly but I love all the same. If my son is up, I make him breakfast; he likes cereal. When I go to the cabinet to get his bowl he pulls his green chair and scoots up to his seat. He then turns his head back at me and watches expectantly. I take stock and measure and cook. When it’s all done, I add a teeny pat of fat (butter or coconut oil) to the bowl of muesli and give him a big cup of warmish water and his utensils.
I don’t come from a family with a rich table tradition. I asked my siblings about what they remember about eating. One of my brothers said, “We came home and we ate”. So when I sit at my own, I sit down with an almost blank slate, until I remember all the other tables that I have been seated at and how they too find their place here.
Growing up, I know we had one. When I was very young I remember sitting at it. It was full of kids. Usually kids that had wondered over but also cousins, aunts and uncles. Maybe, the grownups stood with their plate popped preciously on their lap and leaning against the wall. Their voices rising and falling as they chewed and told the gossip of the day and the past.
Sometimes, we would cook dinner with these people who sat around ours. I remember my cousin visiting and teaching me how to make pizza and fried chicken.
I remember my grandma leaning near it and commenting that I ate like a bird. I think it followed us place to place, but I can’t recall. I don’t know if we ate there much after those days but I do remember eating together. Perhaps, it was in front of the television with plates popped preciously on our laps or maybe it was on the table but what transpired was so mundane that my memory lapses.
During the holidays and special events, there was always one full of food. My family was not active holiday celebrators, so all these celebrations took place in other people’s homes; mainly my great aunts. The people would trickle in, some dishes ready and warm and some needing to see the oven. Eventually, the women would decide everything was ready and the kid folk and the men folk would be called in, a preacher or older man would be located and prayers were said. The plates would be piled high but it was too small to hold all the bodies. So we spread out.
If it was summer, my aunt might have an assortment of them in her garden; a small but mighty space that overlooked a field. If it was winter then we would all scrabble for chairs and couches and whatever else could hold our bodies and eat and talk; maybe watch a game.
Eventually, someone would suggest playing a game, cards or dominos. So, they had to be cleared and cleaned. A boy cousin was recruited to take the trash out and paper and pencil were found. If it was summer, it was likely in the shade near a tree that afforded a breeze. The younger cousins playing basketball and volleyball. The sky blue and unbending. I used to think these times go on forever but times change and less people come and more people go far away to make lives for themselves, myself included.
My aunt and I were so close when I was growing up. I would go to her house after school, on weekends, on school breaks and just because. It was the first place that I can say I truly belonged in that house, at that table with her.
Sometimes I think she showered me with affection she never received as a child. Her parents, my maternal great great-grandparents, died when she was very young and her life was very hard as a child.
I still remember how she would run me bubble baths and warm my towels and clothes, fluff my pillows and listen to my kid rambling while I sat around hers. Her pies were my favorite and she would make them and I would be so elated. She had these plates that she would put out. They had a pink trim. I think we may have put a paper plate on top of them and ate but it was still special and even then I knew that it mattered that I was there at the table, that I warranted a place.
Since I’ve left of the house of my youth I’ve had many tables. Some of them crowded with people and dishes and some of them disheveled. Just dusted off for a quick lunch or ignored for cozier spaces.
These makeshift tables have been like containers of refuge. They have been the places of conversations and debates. I had my first ever birthday party when I was 19 at one with a group of strangers who became my friends. I have celebrated, cried and cultivated a life around wooden legs and Formica tops and linens without any intention except to reach across the gulfs of loneliness and isolation and create a new place of warmth and belonging.
Shortly, after our child was born we decided to upgrade our old one. It was a small rectangle thing. To be honest it was actually a desk – not well suited for the room it was it was in. We bought it to have something in that space.
Before our son was born we ate anywhere except that little rectangle table. When we had him, my husband started talking about his family’s table time. How he and his grandparents would linger at the table and eat and talk. I have been around my husband’s family enough to see this in action and it is quite nice to just linger at a table with your family, sipping drinks and gossiping. It reminded me of my favorite table memories growing up and I wanted that experience for our family. So we bought a new table. It was a wooden and square affair.
If I am honest, we rarely eat a meal away from it. There are moments when I may linger at the counter for a minute, but we sit without any technology and eat together. Sometimes, we may read a book out loud but usually it’s just eating, drinking, talking and somedays lingering. It is hard because it takes so much work to get the food on the table that it almost seems anticlimactic to sit down and eat it but it’s not. It’s really the best part.
We look each other in the face and beyond the tiredness and sometimes very ordinary food and be right where we are. I don’t know what my son will remember of these days. I don’t know what our table will look like in six months or even in ten years. I hope he will feel that there is a place always set and waiting for him, a place where he will always belong.
Keishua Arthur is a former corporate librarian and life-long scribbler living in the D.C. metro area. She is a lover of morning light, a visual storyteller, a word lover and tea addict. She can be found chasing after her toddler, trying not to fuss at her kooky cat, and writing really long posts on Instagram. Her passions include social justice, spiritual advocacy, literacy and body positivity. She can be found onTwitter, Instagram and online at www.thelovelyquiet.com
Photo by Keishua Arthur