My Grandmother’s Simple Kitchen Table (Emily Mader)

My first name is Emily, and my middle name is Rose. I am named after my grandmother (on my mother’s side) whose first two names are Rosa Emilia. I am currently staying at her house in the Dominican Republic this summer. Despite sharing my name with my grandmother, I do not share her love for cooking. I’ve been greatly discouraged by the fact that no matter how hard I try and no matter how much seasoning I put, the results are always tasteless and bland. My grandmother, on the other hand, always has the magic touch that I seem to lack.

I have chosen to study my grandmother’s kitchen table as a chance to learn from my grandmother’s cooking, and also enable me to spend time with her. What interests me about my grandmother’s kitchen table is that its a piece of furniture that I’ve never paid much attention to. There’s nothing particularly striking about the table at first glance; it’s a small, simple steal table covered by a yellow table cloth and a clear plastic table cover. The table is also located in my grandmother’s closed off kitchen, whose access that is limited by a door from the dining room and a door to the ‘back yard,’ making the kitchen ill frequented by me and most members of the family. Most of the family gatherings and luncheons take place in the dining room with a large wooden table that can host up to six people. Despite the kitchen table being simple in design and not frequently visited compared to the dining table, the kitchen table is where the food gets made.

To study the kitchen table, the anthropological methods used will primarily be participant-observation and a little bit of interview. Participant-observation allows me to observe how the kitchen table is before, after and during meal preparation. I would be involved with preparing ingredients and cleaning up afterward. Being involved in the process will help me better understand how exactly the table is used. Interviewing enables me to gain more information that I otherwise wouldn’t get through just observing/participating in the meal prep process. For example, I can glean more into why certain objects are on the table and other situations in which the table is used that I might’ve not seen on the day I’m studying the table.

After observing my grandmother’s kitchen table a little more closely, I noticed that it was very simply decorated with a single red rose placed in a clear plastic cup and whose stem was cut close to the bulb. I had asked her where it came from and she told me that the family gifts her roses whenever possible, as a token to her name Rosa. This particular rose came from someone’s garden, and that is why it was unusually short and could only fit in a small plastic cup. My grandmother doesn’t mind the rose’s appearance but appreciates the gesture more. Usually, the kitchen table is decorated with more roses in a larger vase. The table also has a bowl with random but useful objects; my grandmother’s glasses, tape, a supermarket card, a small wrench, and a candle. I asked my grandmother why she placed all these objects in the bowl and why the items needed to be kept in the kitchen. She answered that the bowl is meant to be a fruit bowl, but instead became a placement for useful items, allowing for easy access since she is often in the kitchen.

Before and after meal preparation, the kitchen table is barely used and barely given any attention.   No one gathers around the kitchen table to have a conversation, no one does work on the kitchen table nor plays card games. All that activity is reserved for the dining table. The kitchen and the kitchen table only comes alive when my grandmother comes in and starts cooking. My grandmother starts taking out ingredients from the fridge and places them on the kitchen table. My grandmother gets out the knives and begins to cut the ingredients. The kitchen table is where all the slicing and dicing happens. My grandmother also uses the kitchen table to season her dishes, and to mix, mash and layer ingredients. Once the food is ready to be cooked, the food gets transported to the stove and onto the pan. The kitchen table then becomes an occasional resting place for my grandmother to take a break as she waits for the food to cook. She is seated patiently, observing for the moment to continue to stir the ingredients in the pan. During this time, she may also spark conversation with a family member who enters the home from the back door. After the meal is fully prepared, the kitchen table gets used as a placeholder for the dishes as they get transported to the dining table, where everyone gets together to eat.

My conclusion on grandmother’s kitchen table is her little place. An area for her to decorate with roses, in any size, shape or condition. It also serves as a mini toolbox for her to easily grab items that are important to her or that may be needed in the future. Most importantly, the kitchen table’s function is to be a place where my grandmother prepares all her food to serve to the family.

One Reply to “My Grandmother’s Simple Kitchen Table (Emily Mader)”

  1. Emily, your attention to detail is excellent. You’ve certainly demonstrated your ability to recreate the experience for your reader. Two things I hope you’d work on in the future. Try to make some connections with course materials and class discussions, and see if you can use them to bear upon your experience and arrive at new insights. Secondly, your conclusion feels weak in comparison with your marvelous descriptions. Your conclusions about the function and practices associated with the kitchen table are almost entirely literal. Do you think you may take them further and explore a bit more the cultural and familial significance of the table? On the whole, well done on journal#2.

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