When I was young it had no fancy references. It served as the hub of every family members destination at least twice a day. It was situated in a brilliant location, unlike in some of the dining rooms of today’s modern homes, where it stands silently secluded outside of the kitchen. Back in the day its location was strategically located where every body had to come to refuel on nutrition and spiritual fuels. Everyone was guaranteed to encounter one another at some time during the course of every day. Breakfast and dinner appearances were mandatory for all, no excuses. It was arguably the most important piece of furniture in the house. It was the kitchen table.
Our kitchen table, was a greenish Formica topped table with chrome siding, supported by tubular chrome legs that hosted a chair for every family member. During meals, Dad always sat at one end and Mom at the other . My four siblings and I were strategically placed on both sides of the table, the one more likely to slip up on kitchen table etiquette was always assigned the seat that put them within arms reach of mom. If one got the notion to start playing inside their nose or some other prohibited dining offense, it could get you a smack beside your head. The kitchen table also served many other functions outside of hosting meal times.
For instance, homework was done at the kitchen table. Bills were opened and reviewed, checks written at the kitchen table. Report cards were surrendered at the kitchen table. Discipline for a sub-par report card or wayward behavior was handed down at the kitchen table. The kitchen table was nakedly exposed in the center of the kitchen floor surrounded by things that were conducive to the main function of the table itself. No distracting small flat screen under counter TVs or glistening appliances were present. There was the stove (ranges were expanses of land that cows and horses roamed on). There was a frigerator (no typo, “frigerator” is what it was) , or icebox as the grandparents would call it. Only upper class blacks and white folks had a refrigerator. The disparity between the two was the frigerator was older and kept low shrilling noises to confirm it was serving its purpose. The refrigerator was relatively silent in its role to preserve its contents. In the end they pretty much did the same.
The kitchen table was also the meeting place for visiting neighbors and friends just stopping by. It was at times transformed into a game table for a friendly game of checkers, cards, or family board game. It also served as the assembly table for a model car or airplane. It could be easily transformed to a playground for dolls. Or as a workbench for one of Dad’s repair jobs. And it was easily adaptable to Mom’s sewing projects. On a real busy night while waiting your turn to get to the kitchen table, you could learn how make cookie dough while watching mom at the table, or learn how to fix a broken clock watching Dad at work at the table.
A.M. Dress check was unavoidable because of the kitchen table. Mom and Dad awaited sipping coffee at the already set breakfast table, for you to come through one of two entrances into the kitchen. Mini skirts . baggy jeans, derogatory t-shirts, well they were not an issue, because they were not in the closet. Inspection was to confirm shirts and jeans were starched and pressed, and shoes were shined. On the girls, bobby socks were inspected for bagginess and hair for matching barrettes or neatly braided braids. Everybody was sniffed tested for bath confirmation and skin inspected for vaseline to combat ash.
If you passed inspection the reward was to sit down at the kitchen table and devour a hot breakfast made from real flour, fresh milk, sugar, with some real meat of the pork or fish variety all prepared on a stove in the same room with the kitchen table. There were always conversations, from mom and dad discussing where dad’s contracting job was taking him that day, to both parents reminding the children of the occasional borderline grade that needed improving, or jogging one memory to mow the lawn after homework in the afternoon.
Time progression has the mysterious aptitude of reassigning values without authorization or notification. Case in point. Cold cereal and milk are standard fare on modern-day breakfast tables, while a hot cooked breakfast is a luxury. Rewind to circa 1950 – 70 and the reverse was the truth, Hot steaming eggs, salmon cakes, sausage and ham, fresh from a nearby farm , biscuits from mom, hot thick oatmeal in a bowl, grits and sharp gooey cheese or saturated with butter, pork cracklings, herring roe, mackerel cakes, toast with “preserves” from one of mom’s mason jars she stocked in her pantry., was only a few of the mouth-watering delectables that were standard and taken for granted fares on the kitchen table’s menu. Cold cereal was a rewarded luxury that came as a side treat for maybe making an honor roll, or just getting through the month not misbehaving. It was never the entrée seven days a week.
The kitchen table also was the springboard of a lot of today’s restaurant’s recipes. Yankee Pot Roast, Chicken and Dumplings, Fried Chicken deep fried in a spider, ( don’t know what a spider is??….ohhh boy its gonna be a long post wheww) , Fried Pork Chops, Cornbread, Candied Yams, fried fresh fish, mashed potatoes, gravy, and well the list goes on. Again, the expanse and demands of time has twisted the standard with the preparation of these dishes for the most part left to cookie cutter , and carry out restaurants, or microwaves in modern times. you can even buy them frozen (Yuk).
The kitchen table in all its functions , served up some ultimate recipes that never reached the palate or stomach however. Recipes such as bonding, honesty, family unity, human respect, love, socialization, wisdom, wit and religion. The kitchen table served up recipes that would sustain all that ever sat a lifetime. The kitchen table bought clarity to race issues and taught you how to deal with them. At the kitchen table work ethic was lectured, illustrated and expected. In its entirety, the kitchen table was a life prep course that you were enrolled in from the time you were big enough to sit in a booster seat and remained enrolled in forever. It prepared girls and boys to be upstanding women and men when they reached that right of passage as well as educated parents on the ever-changing game of raising kids. .
After growing into adulthood and moving out, returns to visit “home” always included a session at the kitchen table for a refresher course of sorts and catching up. No matter how old you are or how long you’d been away all visits eventually converge at the kitchen table.
I’ve noticed a correlation over the years between the demise of the kitchen table, prayer in schools, the structured family unit, the desinegration of committed and concerned community and village, the escalation of crime, derogatory social issues, eroding community fabric, disrespectful and dangerous children. There has been a post-haste disruption of communication between the teachers and the students , the parent and the child as well as an unmasked peripheral deprivation of respect among all. The demise of almost all the defining and decent element of esteemed morals and values have given way to an elusive and detrimental social foundation. And I am certain the disappearance of the kitchen table as a daily hub for the family unit plays a substantial role in the afore-mentioned issues plaguing our society today.
Can the kitchen table concept resolve all the issues modern-day society is faced with. No. Absolutely not.
What it will do is reconnect parents with children, which is where the skills of becoming a productive and upstanding member of society are and should be initiated, cultivated, maintained, and reinforced. It will keep all members of the family fabric interwoven with one another creating that bond that is so necessary for proper mental and physical development for the entire family.
For those that are about to run out looking to buy a green Formica topped table with matching chairs to plant in the center of the kitchen. You can stop. For those that are thinking of relocating the dinning room table to the kitchen, don’t bother. You see, it’s not really about a table, The table serves only as a fundamental mechanism for all family forks in the roads to merge and gel. If the mental concept of the kitchen table is adopted the physical is effectively applicable to any location.
The goal at this juncture, is to get a grip on our children, by creating a home environment conducive to proper rearing. And to properly rear anything it requires daily maintenance, direction, love, and nurturing, which requires a hands on commitment. For those that doubt the effectiveness of the kitchen table concept, go back twenty years and read a couple of the news headlines, then fast forward and read a couple from today.