If These Tables Could Talk
The living room. The very words denote the place in a home where life is lived, and family comes together. This may be true in most homes, but not in mine. Earlier this year, I was given a table that holds a very sentimental place in my heart (more about that later). That table made me realize that my whole life and its ever-changing chapters have taken place around a table. Sure, there have been some good meals shared at the many tables of my life, but when the food is taken out of the equation, the conversation around these tables has been invaluable. From childhood to my teenage years and raising my own family, the table still stands as the focal point in my home and my heart. Memories have been made, lessons have been learned, and family has come together all around the table.
I grew up next door to my grandparents. It is a blessing that I wouldn't trade for anything. To add to that blessing, I had two cousins who lived on the other side of my grandparents. Three more cousins lived a whopping two and a half miles on the other side of our small town. Because of our proximity, it goes without saying that those five cousins, my two sisters, and I grew up spending lots of time at my grandparents' house. The eight of us ate many Sunday lunches there. I can remember the food being spread from one end of the dining table to the other. My whole family would surround that table and listen to my Pawpaw thank the Lord for the food and for the ones standing there. During those prayers, I vividly remember staring intently at that long, dark wooden table. I'm hoping that God gave me a pass for keeping my eyes open during some of those sacred Sunday times. I felt it was survival of the fittest and had to make sure that my cousins hadn't made strategic moves to get ahead of me in line.
After plates were filled, the cousins would spread out to eat because the dining room table was also the grown-up table. It was a place where only the VIPs could sit (i.e., parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents). However, a couple of times a year, my grandparents would invite just their grandchildren over, and the eight of us would get to eat a meal (usually pizza) at the table like we were the VIP's. We would talk about what was going on in our lives and watch my grandparents laugh and smile, not knowing that they were soaking up every minute with all of us. Our childish minds also got to listen to the two people that we still refer to as "Mawmaw" and "Pawpaw" tell us stories of the times they grew up in. Even though one of the cousins is gone and the rest of us are separated by life and distance, I can still hear those young voices laughing around that long dining room table.
The table in the dining room was one thing, but the kitchen table at my grandparent's home was quite another. As my teenage years approached, that table became the one that I spent more time at. As teenagers often do, a few bad decisions were made on my part, and my Dad would always take my sisters and me over to my grandparents' house to confess our wrongs. My Pawpaw would sit at one end of the table, and I would sit at the other. Usually, through tears, I would recount what I had done. Please understand that my Pawpaw is the epitome of a family patriarch. I would have rather stood in the church pulpit and confessed my sins to the entire congregation. After staring at the dull finish on that kitchen table for the duration of my confession, I'd lift my head only to see Pawpaw looking at me. He rarely said anything to me in a disciplinary tone. He didn't have to. "The look" was punishment enough. All he would ever say was, "We love you." As a teenager, the lessons I learned at my grandparents' kitchen table were always of mercy and forgiveness, something the rest of the world needs a little bit more of.
That same kitchen table went on to see me into adulthood. As a young mother with three stair-stepped babies, a 40-plus-hour-a-week job, and little money, I once again found myself (several times) at that table, either beating my head against it or crying my eyes out. I remember telling my grandmother how guilty I felt for leaving my children every day to go to work and take care of other people. I would tell her how I could not see a light at the end of the financial tunnel and how I was just about to break from exhaustion. Mawmaw would always put a glass of tea on the table in front of me and look at me with eyes that resembled my own. She would tell me that working outside the home didn't make me a bad mother and that the guilt I felt was just a distraction from the blessings in life because my children were healthy and happy. She'd say that she had been where I was financially and that not knowing how we would make it to the next payday was where faith came into the picture. More than once, in the midst of my pity party, Pawpaw would walk into the kitchen and say, "You don't know it yet, but the best time of your life is when all of your children are at home, and you don't have two nickels to rub together." It turns out that he was right. That kitchen table was a place of encouragement and where wise words shared still ring true today.
When my husband and I had children of our own, we thought it was very important to eat dinner together at the table. Of course, I remember the stage when high chairs replaced regular chairs. Then, the regular chairs reappeared as my kids grew. Their childhood stage brought about lots of "You don't have to like what your mother cooked, but you're at least going to try it" statements from my husband. The five of us took turns praying. Table manners were taught. Expectations for school were often talked about, and conversations about the most random subjects were had during our family time around the table. "Hey, Mom! Will my lungs explode if I stick a leaf blower in my mouth?" is a specific question I remember my boy child asking one night at dinner. I may or may not have told him to go try it to see what would happen. Nevertheless, being together around the table brought consistency to my young family.
During my children's teenage years, it was harder for my growing family to gather around the table for the evening meal, but my husband and I were determined to keep our tradition going. There were several times that we didn't eat together until 9 pm when my teenagers finally got home from their many extra-curricular activities. That was ok. As a rule, there were no phones at the table, and though dinner didn't last long at this stage of raising our children, it was the 15-20 minutes a day where we, as parents, were able to find out what was going on in their adolescent world. It kept the lines of communication open and our family close during a time when distractions from the outside were at their peak. Sure, there were times of devastating news shared at that table, but there was also love, loyalty, and respect that came from sitting at that rectangle piece of wood with four legs. Looking back, I'm convinced one of the reasons that we survived parenting was because of our family time at the table. It is literally the place where we raised our children. Now, when those adult children come home to visit, they don't congregate in the living room. They naturally gather at…you guessed it…the table.
The end of last year brought back a long-forgotten table that holds a very sentimental place in my memory. It's the coffee table that has been in my grandparent's house for as long as I can remember. It's a round table top, very heavy, and quite large for a coffee table. Remember when I mentioned that most Sunday lunches, my cousins and I were banned from the adult table and left to our own devices? Well, a lot of those devices happened around this coffee table. There were Christmas cookies made on this table top. There were forks jabbed into the wood when one of the cousins would get their feathers ruffled. This coffee table also saw its fair share of crayon marks and orange juice stains. It even stood strong when my cousin, Simon, would walk in my grandparents' door, run through the kitchen into the living room, and slide across this same coffee table onto the couch. He did that Dukes of Hazard slide on that tabletop until his legs got too long. I could go on and on about this table, but let's just say it held its own over the years and became quite a coveted piece of furniture among the cousins. In fact, it was so coveted that earlier this year, my 90 and 94-year-old grandparents decided to give it to one of us. To be fair, they drew names out of hat. My aunt did the honors of recording the event and texting it to the cousins.
I need you to know that the only thing I've ever won in my 46 years was a donut for being the one-thousandth customer on the first day that Krispy Kreme opened its doors in Little Rock, AR. So you can only imagine my surprise when the name drawn for the well-worn coffee table was mine! As expected, I immediately began receiving cheeky text messages from my sisters and cousins saying things like, "You better lock your doors. I'm coming for that table" and "Mawmaw told me that the winner of the table has to host Thanksgiving at their house." The hazing in this family never goes away. It's how we show love. Anyway, when my Dad brought the coffee table to my house, he told me that he could sand it and refinish it for me. I politely declined. There are lots of memories tied up in that old table. I love every scratch and every blemish. It reminds me of a childhood spent at my grandparents' house and that no matter the imperfections I've acquired along the way, the foundation stands firm…just like the table.
I am very aware that I don't deserve even one of the blessings given to me, but I've come to realize that so many of them have been poured out on me at different times throughout my life. From childhood to teenage years and on into adulthood, there have been several different tables that have molded me. Someone once said, "To share a table is to share everything." So, as 2024 begins, be intentional. Take time to sit with your family at the table; talk, laugh, cry, and love. It's time that you'll never regret spending. I've wondered if the tables in my life could talk, what would they say? After all, they've heard a lot. I think they would tell me to pull up a chair. This life of learning around a table isn't over yet.