Set the Table

I inherited my mother’s dining set when she was no longer physically able to put on the big family dinners that she planned, prepared, and presided over for many a holiday. Not only did her treasured set come with many, many fond memories of food and family, but with some pretty ugly upholstered chairs as well.

Only now the chairs are here with me and she is not. Along with my mother’s passing, I made some pretty steep promises to her concerning her table. I promised my mother that I would do my very best to keep this family intact, to always remember to celebrate family and food at least as half as good as she did, and that no matter how busy we get or how much distance is between us all, to never ever forget we are a family. And I do try to keep in touch with all of my nieces and nephew, as well as my brother to the very best of my ability.

My mother never forsook the chance to gather us around her table on every holiday she could get us and many a Sunday dinner. Laughing and eating around her table made up the cadence and rhythm of my family life. Never once did she complain that it was too much work or that she was too tired or unappreciated, as I am sure she often was.

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Not only was she a gourmet cook long before there were foodies and television shows about food, she knew how to set a table and make a meal feel like an occasion. When our family became too large for us all to sit around the table, she still cooked elaborate meals, ironed the tablecloth, made a centerpiece, put out her “fancy” dishes among the clumsy fingers of the grandchildren, and set the mood with candle light. Not only did she enjoy it, it was her tangible way of showing her love to each of us and her special service to her family.

If you are a young mother just starting your own family traditions, don’t overlook the importance of gathering your family around the table and making a big deal out of it. Your family will gain so much more than just eating a meal. They’ll know that you value them and that you didn’t need a special occasion or an interesting dinner partner to go to the trouble to put a linen tablecloth out and do a sink full of dishes rather than throwing away some paper plates.

And my mother didn’t just cook for the family. In the 60s and 70s, and throughout the 80s, she hosted many a fine and fun dinner parties for friends.

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My mother taught me many, many valuable things about being a young woman and a lady. Far too many things to share in this one post, but one of the greatest gifts she ever gave me was the lessons I learned watching her serve her family around something as inanimate and inane as a table.

I fervently hope that people are beginning to sense the importance of a slow meal and that this is the reason why there is such a renewed interest today in home entertaining and cooking. People are longing for their lives to have meaning outside of their jobs, the classroom, or running from one sporting event to the next. We crave connection with one another. In fact, the human spirit requires it.

My mother’s table became the anchor in the storm of many a family member’s life. We didn’t just eat a meal, we connected with one another as we set and cleared the table, put away the leftovers, did the dishes, or listened to a sibling’s tale or an older relative spin a yarn. And we laughed. We laughed a lot. It was in these moments that my mother carved out of each of our busy lives that our house became a home, a safe port, a familiar haven.

Even after I inherited her dining set, we managed to gather one last time around her Thanksgiving “table.” Gone was the china and fancy dishes (there were 17 of us) but we still set out the candles and covered the tables. Most important, we again shared a lot of laughter.

So here’s to turning off the television, putting away the ipad, and turning off the phone–that is after you have planned the menu, shopped, and baked your pie. Family gatherings don’t just happen spontaneously and they are not just for Thanksgiving, they are a deliberate labor of love.

Today, my family lives miles apart and meals together are rare. However, my brother and his children do a  fine job of keeping the family traditions intact. I always look forward to gathering together with them and food is always at the center of our celebrations. And mom, I’ll see you at the marriage feast of the lamb.

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