The Multi-generational Table

This family has always been a sporting family. It really started with the grandfather. He was on the tall side – 6 foot 7. He was a star basketball player in high school, but his heart was always on the golf course. Going into his house one would see a large array of trophies and prizes from various tournaments. The most precious prize, little did he know it at the time, was a dining room table he won for his wife. Well to be entirely correct, he got coupons to a furniture store annually for winning their golf tournament. He won it so many times that every piece of furniture from his home was from golfing. This table was a huge Tuscan style wood table with 10 chairs, but many more could squeeze in. I am a distant observer in this story, for this table was before my time. I write as an outsider, for I have no memory of the table itself. It was my mother’s childhood table, and mine as well, when I was much younger. Using the informal interview anthropological method, I am conducting this study in order to have a deeper understanding of my family’s background, and to have a better recollection of my childhood. My intention is to use an informal interview because the best information I can observe is through my mother’s recollection and storytelling. Gillian Crowther in Eating Culture An Anthropological Guide to Food states “The everyday reality of life is most strongly felt and experienced by individuals” and because of this I knew my mother is the best person to talk to about her family table because she has seen it from multiple perspectives, both as mother and child, and because she has experienced the table in every stage of its life. My mother was happy to discuss this with me, and I only had to ask one question to really get the stories rolling.

The table started its family life off in my grandmother’s (my mother’s mother) home. There it was so large it filled the entire front room, a happy and welcoming place to all that entered the house. Outside of meals, this table held many different purposes. On this table my mother had all her childhood holidays and momentous occasions. She did her college applications there. The most fun she said her, and her sister ever had was doing each other’s wedding invitations on that same table. Her grandmother passed the recipe of my family’s pasta sauce down to her mother there. The table then moved onto my family in Pittsburgh, where my older brother and I would always eat and my mother became the chef, and the cuisine shifted to a heartier Irish cuisine, her specialties being shepherd’s pie and soda bread. Today the table sits in the center of my cousin’s home, where Polish feasts cover the table. The table, no matter where it is, has always been the centerpiece and meeting space of one big happy family.

Before meals, this table was a meeting place, where children would come into the room, slam down their book bags, and get an afternoon snack. A happy mother would look on, planning the night’s meal. After clearing the table, the children would help to set up for dinner. The cook, often my grandmother/mother, would then set down the food, always family style, and the meal would begin. A family tradition was set at this table. It is called “best and worst” where everyone would have to share the best and worst things that happened during the day. With this simple game, the table built daily connections between siblings and parents. Many stories and cheering up took place at the table. After the meals is when the table really came to life. On one side of the table, there was always a dedicated study area, where one could do homework and prepare for the next day, the other housed the “card sharks.” My mother recalls there seemingly always being a game of cards taking place with my grandmother and other relatives after big meals, and the table was the center of it.

In conclusion, this kitchen table’s greatest quality is what is consistent across my family’s different cultures. The ability to be a central, welcoming comfort zone for generations has been what makes this table so significant. The table is large enough to fit everyone with all the homemade food one could eat. As these stories in the interview unfolded, I feel a warmth and connection to my family’s history, though I do not remember the table itself. I remember emotions mixed with smells and flavors of family’s specialty foods, and I am grateful for the center of our lives that was this table.

One Reply to “The Multi-generational Table”

  1. Ben, quite intriguing opening! You’ve construed a solid response to the essay prompt, and addressed all the five questions. One suggestion I have is try working with course materials more and build stronger connections between your experience/study and the texts we’ve discussed in class. And for that matter, I also encourage you to rethink the Crowther reference you used in paragraph 1. I really enjoyed reading your post, but I wonder if you could find a better quote to support your claim. Perhaps you could use other texts to bear upon your discussions of the table and its functions in the family as well. In general, well done.

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