When my wife and I were first married, we used to eat at a small kitchen table that could barely fit two plates, let alone two people. It was small, intimate and perfect.
We eventually got a standard dining set that accommodated six, but even with the addition of our infant son, the surface area was so much more than we needed that half the table became a catch-all of cookbooks, place mats and napkin rings. In time, our daughter’s birth evened the spread of place settings, and the arrival of our youngest daughter necessitated the use of the whole table. Over time, the frequent visits of family and friends – our’s and our children’s, obligated us to invest in a bigger table with two leaves that enabled us to sit 10 people. Such was the regular occurrence of dinner guests that the chore of setting the table was dreaded by all our children.
Today, things have quieted down.
Two of our kids are at college. Age, coronavirus concerns and assorted obligations have compelled family members and friends to become less inclined to travel. So, quite abruptly, we’re back to a three-person dinner table.
The new arrangement delights our youngest daughter. No longer does she have to suffer the theatric narratives of her siblings or the sharp words of reproach when she deigns to interject. Center stage is hers, and she stretches out stories to the very limits of her parents’ undivided attention. All that, and her chore of setting the table is a piece of cake.
In five years or so, our party of three will return to a table for two. My wife insists by then we’ll be dining abroad in far-flung locales sampling local cuisines. I’ve suggested that someday we’ll be sitting at our kids’ tables and that my knees will be so sore that I won’t be expected to help clean things up, but maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up.
I always used to tell the kids that we ate dinner together because we weren’t a restaurant preparing multiple meals to satisfy each appetite. As I look back, I see that dinner was the one time each day we were all in the same place.
One of my favorite memories belongs to my wife. She was pulling out of the driveway after eating dinner on a busy Monday night. Through the window she could see a host of people at our dinner table – our kids, their friends and our friends, and it looked fun. It felt good to have a full house.