Throwback to the kitchen: The importance of the family dinner table

The smell of the swirling, creamy soup laced with tomatoes, loaded with potatoes drove my sense of smell crazy. Mom’s potato soup served on a crisp fall day was the perfect ending to a day at home.

I was raised in a home where store bought cookies were only bought during special times like a family vacation.  My mom’s grocery list each week consisted of very basic staples like sugar, flour, tea, pasta and milk.  If she wanted to fix chicken for supper, she’d go out and wring a chicken’s neck. If she wanted beef, she’d open the freezer and pull out Petunia, the black Angus’ blessing to us. If she wanted to have warm bread for her family, she spent the afternoon kneading and allowing dough to rise. If ice cream sounded good – we churned the crank! Rows upon rows of jars filled with the most delicious garden veggies and fruits lined our fruit cellar every winter. Apples, potatoes and onions were no exception – if stored right – they lasted through February. Every other kind of fruit was made into jelly, pies to be frozen, or juice for drinking. I learned that hard work brings abundance later. I learned that a man reaps what he sows in that kitchen. I learned not to waste, not to hoard and to always be thinking of how you could bless someone else with your abundance. It didn’t matter if it were simply a pot of beans or a berry pie, if you extended it to another family, it showed you cared. It spoke the message, “I wanted to take the time to offer you something that will bring you comfort.”

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We didn’t think about fast food in those days – it never entered our mind unless we were on vacation. Every great once-in-awhile, we’d go out to dinner after church on Sunday, but that was a rare event. Dinner was at 12:00, noon and supper was at 6:00 –you could count on it every single day. You could set your clock to it. Dad kept the feeding schedule to the minute with the livestock and mom kept our tummies equally disciplined. Except for Sunday evenings, (the popcorn and apples night) so that mom could have a break – we sat down together.

Mom didn’t make us something different if we didn’t like what she fixed (tons of ketchup was used by a particular little girl who hated beans and cornbread). You ate what she made or you didn’t eat. It was a consistent lesson in “life isn’t always about what I want or even like.” It’s where I first heard about the starving children in Africa, it’s where I learned how fortunate I was to have ample food set before me. It’s a place I learned to be thankful.

Unless you were ill, there was no thought of skipping a meal. You were expected to show up, on time. Whining wasn’t allowed. Manners counted.There we were, all together, day after day, night after night. There were no other distractions. The TV wasn’t in front of us. No one’s fingers were flying underneath the table in an attempt to send a desperate text to a friend. If the phone, that was attached to the wall, happened to ring, who ever answered informed the caller that we were eating. But most people didn’t get calls at supper time because most everyone else was having their supper too. We were there, face to face, having those daily encounters. It wasn’t that we discussed politics or even heavy social issues, but we were together, talking about our life, as simple as that was. The price of corn and beans, which field Dad was going to be working in next, how many calves had been born, the events with church and with family, they were our prompts of conversation.

Dad’s rough and tanned hands passing food were a daily reminder of provision, hard work and stability. His tan lines would be washed clean as he had scrubbed his arms up to his elbows, washed his sun-weathered face and made sure that he wasn’t tracking in or getting mom’s kitchen dirty with the evidence of his honest work.

Every meal used the assortment of pretty bowls. Food was never served off the stove, unless it was soup. From juicy roasts to rolls that melted in your mouth to a simple grilled cheese, paper plates weren’t a guest on our table. It wasn’t practical. Pickles, even butter had its own special dish. Jellies and jams with mom’s hand writing on the labels were added character and to her, it wasn’t anything special, it was the norm. It was here that I learned that my momma loved me, she loved all of us. It was here I learned about the heart of a servant.

You were expected to help either set or clear the table or be on dish washing or drying detail. I learned then that mom needed and expected help and that if you complained, Dad stepped in, which meant there would be no more whining. I learned about respect at that table, I learned that my mouth could get me into trouble. I learned there were consequences for my impatience or to speak-without thinking.

All those meals, all that preparation from my mom, all that hard work from my dad’s providing hands, all the time my parents put into those meals without giving it much thought…they have no idea the implications of their simple acts. They have no idea of what it meant on a deeper level…the rich, spiritual nutrients that were gleaned at that table for all those years. Every day at noon and at six, there we were a farm family with an assortment of pretty dishes displaying home made and home grown food. Every day. You could count on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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May friendship, encouragement and grace abound!