Sunday, September 02, 2007

The End of the Meal

[my response to the Sunday Scribblings prompt, "the end"]

When I was growing up, the evening meal was served all at once. If there was salad, it was passed at the same time as the main dish and the sides. And usually things were passed. We didn't think of most our dinners as formal, though we did often have a tablecloth on the table, and we all sat down together. But whatever pot or pan we cooked in was what we served out of. A few hotpads or trivets kept the table from being scorched.

Once everyone finished eating, we usually cleared the pots and dishes from the table, putting the dishes into the dishwasher or stacking them to be washed by hand, putting leftovers in the refrigerator, putting the trivets away.

And then sometimes we had dessert. Sometimes it was fruit, now and then it was something sweeter: ice cream and cookies, or cake, or apple crisp, or a special pastry. We were often told "keep your forks" when we cleared the table, so that we didn't have more to wash after the meal. But by the time I was a young teen, I knew that dessert wasn't necessarily the end of dinner.

From the time we were little, my parents taught us good table manners. We were taught to be polite, to use utensils to eat with, to wipe our mouths with our napkins, and to sit at the table, even when we had finished unless we were asked to be excused. The figured if we behaved at home, we would also behave in the world, and she never had to be embarrassed by our behavior when we ate out in a restaurant or when we were guests in someone else's home.

My parents did not, however, hold to the "seen and not heard" philosophy of child-rearing. We were encouraged to take part in conversations. We were asked about our day and urged to ask questions. There was a certain amount of teasing. It was said of our dinner table that "the first liar didn't have a chance" meaning that one person started an exaggeration and then another person would build on that and so on. I remember a lot of laughter at the dinner table, and some bemused looks from visitors who hadn't experienced this kind of jesting before.

So with congenial conversation and joking, we talked and talked. And reaching the end of the food did not always happen at the end of a conversation. It was common for us to continue talking even after the last cake crumbs had disappeared from the plates. Sometimes a map would be brought out to help explain something, or maybe a dictionary or encyclopedia, or a photo album, or one of the many kinds of bibles in the house (we had more than one religion in the family).

My wife and I don't typically eat at the dinner table these days, but we certainly do when we have guests over. And those meals are likely to have the same endings as the ones I grew up with - with good conversation. I think of our closest friends and in each case, I remember conversations, many of which took place after dessert, often still sitting around one table or another, at our place or theirs.


Crafty Green Poet said...

My parents had a very similar approach to meal times, except conversation wasn't cultivated as much! I'm glad to say that has changed now and we have really good conversations at mealtimes when I visit them.

Maria said...

Meal time at my house when I was a kid was always family centered and "our" time.

Now, things can get rushed. Bing works late in the evenings and more often than not, Liv and I share a quickly made grilled cheese or a salami sandwich or our favorite: Mrs. Grass soup.

I have discovered that it has nothing to do with the food and everything to do with the talk. Liv and I share more with each other over dinner than we do any other time.

Sundays are the big meal day around here. Bing makes a huge traditional Sunday dinner and we often have company.

sister AE said...

Hi, Juliet. I have been entertained by the change of topics in conversations with my mom over the years. It seemed every 5 years or so I passed some invisible benchmark that meant I was "old enough" to hear some family story I'd never been told before.

Hello, Maria. You are right - it isn't the food, it is the talk and the time to talk. Sunday dinners sound nice - I haven't done that since my grandparents died a long time ago. But that certainly was an anchor of the week.

Gill said...

I love to gather around the table as a family at meal times and have a good chat about this and that. Some of the best family times have been around the dinner table.

sister AE said...

Hi, Gill. You are welcome to chat at this table any time.

gautami tripathy said...

I too had similar experience. I and my three brothers along with our parents shared our thoughts, our days, anything along with food. It helped us bond well. Even now when we all get together, we sit down to eat together. My dad is no more but memories remain.

sister AE said...

hi, gautami. i think i learned more about who my parents were as people through those talks. and the discussions certainly helped widen my horizons.