Just recently, it went out the door of my house, where it settled after my parents’ home was sold, never to return. Safely conveyed with its matching chairs by good friends to the young adult son of another good friend, it’s my hope that the table is once again destined to serve as a linchpin, connecting good meals and good conversation with good faith.
Such was its role from the time my mother settled on its wide, round, archetypal Colonial frame – the trend back in the ‘60s when it was new. She and my father found its shape appealing, I remember her saying to all of us.
No one sat at the head of the table or, by extension, at its foot. Everyone had good eye contact with each other. Best of all, our parents explained, sitting in a circle obstructed the view of the equally new, large color television set in the living room during meals, making conversation while perhaps not mandatory, certainly highly recommended.
Since those days, the table has taken a few hard knocks, from myself and my brothers, our friends and the frisky onslaught of the generation that followed us.
While well-intentioned rough housing – a burn here, a nick there – left marks over the decades, the table moved steadily through time, a bulwark that gathered family together into safe harbor at least once a day.
Getting it ready to leave for its new home as part of the “de-cluttering” process recommended by a home sale expert, I couldn’t help but revisit those meals.
The number of graces prayed over the food spread out on its surface like manna on holy days, holidays and Sacramental occasions is incalculable. The bread broken at that table among relatives and friends was something like loaves and fishes, especially in the lean times everyone shared at one time or another.
The image of my mother spreading clear plastic over the table when the grandchildren were just little tykes so they could make as much of a mess as they wanted and just have a good time stands out clearly in the mind’s eye. So does the picture of my dad engaging in philosophical conversations over snacks with our friends who sought out his company on Friday and Saturday nights.
When the table came to my house, I knew I inherited more than a round piece of wood on a sturdy base. I inherited a whole legacy, passed down by my mother and father of traditions that spanned, if not the world, at least Europe.
Blended together were ingredients that sparked the desire to know all about the people who created them, their customs, and their beliefs. It created a thirst to know what caused them to depart Ireland, Italy, the British Isles, the backwaters of the Austro Hungarian Empire and Scandinavia and stick it out in the face of terrible hardship.
The insights I gleaned from sitting with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and our friends made it hard to give that table up. Still, it would have been much harder to send it off to a secondhand store or a garage sale, where its fate would have been unknown.
Just this week, while researching a story on how grandparents are coping with the digital whirlwind enveloping society, I found a number of stories on how the dining table had dropped from the single most important piece of furniture in the house to fourth or even fifth place.
After years of knowing the mom of the young man who wanted the table for his first apartment and her love of family and home, I have a feeling our family table will buck that trend.
PHOTO: BEARING WITNESS • This photo shows my mother holding her granddaughter, Jeannie, at the beloved family table. The table, now on its way to a new home, was at the center of more than one lifetime of memories.
This column first appeared in the Aug. 9, 2018, issue of The Monitor, official newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.