“Grandma always gathered her family for Sunday dinner, transforming the old scratched oak table into a royal banquet… Those times are long since past, and the old oak table now sits in our sister’s kitchen…but when she places a crocheted doily on the table and spreads an array of desserts and wines upon it, we go back in time to the days of our youth and a longing for a time so precious, so dear, that only in our minds can we go” (“Family Sustenance,” Country Home Magazine, December 1994).
Those words were written by my mother and referred to the family dinner table that once sat in her grandmother’s kitchen and now sits in my aunt’s living room where many of our family gatherings are held. Oh, if that table could talk…
That table is the guardian of many family secrets. Its oak surface was christened with both joyous and sorrowful tears. It holds the marks and indentations that bear witness to homework assignments, home repair jobs, and objects dropped in the hustle and bustle of family life. It was around that table that engagements were announced, babies were fed, and funeral dinners were held. Most important of all, it was the place where everyone gathered, where everyone talked, where everyone was welcomed and nourished and lived.
In addition to the many physical and emotional benefits of eating together, there are cultural and worldly benefits. There’s an old saying that the family who prays together, stays together. I firmly believe that the family who eats together is the family that listens better, understands and tolerates better, and loves others more deeply (and I bet they often pray more as well).
Recently, a friend and I had a brief Facebook conversation about the demise of the family meal. Until this unprecedented time in our recent history, most families rarely sat down for a meal at their kitchen table. Instead, dinner was a piece of fruit grabbed on the way out, a paper bag stuffed with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or a drive-through at McDonald’s. I’ve long been a believer that the absence of family mealtime is one of the biggest contributors to the problems our nation faces today, whether the problem be drug abuse, suicide, broken families, or even just the simple lack of being able to discuss and listen.
Our priest often reminisces about his family dinner table. It was where they said goodbye to his brother going off to war as well as where they shed tears at the news of that brother’s death in Vietnam. Father tells of birthday parties and wedding plans and his sharing the news of his call to the priesthood at that family table.
Our own table has been the place where the girls did homework, planned science fair projects, put together puzzles, played games, and dyed Easter eggs. It’s where we’ve done craft projects with friends and gained knowledge from older generations. It’s where we’ve eaten Christmas and Easter feasts, held cookie swap dinners, and cracked many a crab claw. The table has been spread with food for graduations, and friend gatherings, and most recently, a wedding brunch.
Everyone who comes to our home knows that they have a place at the kitchen table. Sometimes I warn the girls, when a last minute dinner guest arrives, that we may not have enough food for everyone, but somehow, there always seems to be enough. Yet…
There was never enough time. Sports practices and games, Mock Trial, piano lessons, school plays, and other activities robbed us of many nights around that table as they do for many families across the country. In addition to time, we are robbed of important lessons, conversations, and togetherness. When my girls were running around, and the 30 minute drive back to the house just wasn’t possible, we tried as often as we could to still find time to eat together. Often, Ken would drive into town just to meet us at Applebee’s or Panera or even Chick-Fil-A. It didn’t matter. We just wanted to make sure that we kept dinnertime as sacred as possible.
Looking back over the past fifty years (okay, yes, it will be fifty-one in a few weeks), some of my fondest memories take place around the family dinner table. My father would come home from work and keep us in stitches with the jokes he had heard that day. Even when he told the same ones over and over, we would all laugh. Did we tire of hearing his favorite one dozens of times? “Nope… I’m a frayed knot.” When we weren’t laughing at dad’s jokes, we were talking about school or Campfire Girls or marching band or baseball practice. On rare occasions, the living room television was wheeled into the kitchen, and we ate in silence as we watched the ambulance take Elvis to the hospital or the press conference telling us the condition of President of Reagan and then Pope John II after having been shot in separate incidents in 1981. Those scenes are imprinted in my mind as are the reactions of my parents and siblings as we watched, our food barely touched, our hearts heavy. One day, the table was the witness to joy, and the very next could be the witness to sorrow or worry or pain. All of those things added to the weight borne on those wooden legs.
When we remodeled our kitchen three years ago, I insisted that we enlarge our kitchen table. I wanted it to sit at least ten. We found someone on Etsy who made the table to our specifications and delivered it to us. If needed, it actually sits fourteen, and an expansion piece Ken made extends it to twenty-four! From the moment the table was in place, I began dreaming of family diners on Sunday afternoons, the kind my great-grandmother held–the table adorned with a family heirloom tablecloth and spread with homemade pies and our “famous” ice cream cake. It’s my biggest hope that my children will not only live close enough to join us as often as possible for those dinners but that they will come to love and appreciate that time as much as their grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents did.
I pray that this pandemic has brought about a change in us all. I pray that we are now more aware of the time lost to the world’s demands and the time gained by these months of being at home with loved ones. I pray that the citizens of our country realize that so many of the world’s problems can be solved if we just do this one thing–have dinner together each night as a family. For you see, it’s not about the mealtime or the food or even the table at which it takes place. It’s about the conversation, and the sharing, and most of all, the love. For those are the things this world is lacking.
May you all have a pleasant evening, gathered around your table, enjoying the food, but enjoying even more the words, the touches, the feelings, and all that make up that precious time together. Whether your children are toddlers tugging at your skirt or adults still tugging at your heartstrings, may you all make the time, as often as possible, to share meals together and reap the rewards that those times are sure to bring–to you, your family, and our world.
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain(2020).