May 15, 2009

Around My Kitchen Table Part 1

Dinner for nine is an interesting endeavor. We shop a lot. We cook a lot. And we clean up.

A lot. As a matter of fact, we can no longer fit all the dishes from one meal in our dish washer. But that is not the point of tonight's story. Except to say that meal time is always an experience.

One night last week, after a busy day and evening working in the yard, we came in for dinner. We were having a good time of being together and clowning around, when it suddenly occurred to me that this is one of the best parts of our life together.

And yet, it is so very ordinary, so much a part of every day, that I've never thought to record it anywhere...not in my journal...not in a photograph...and certainly not on my blog where everyone in the world might have the opportunity to see Aedan falling asleep with his head next to his plate.

Before each holiday meal, my dad always takes a picture of the table beautifully set and filled to overflowing with painstakingly prepared dishes. Really, though, who would want a picture of a table on which the centerpiece is ripening cantaloupes?

Yet, as a family with many children...the dining room table is one of the most important parts of our day and if I may be so bold to say so...our life. It is here that we spend a great deal of time sharing, discussing, planning, voting, correcting, instructing, laughing, praying, studying. Together. No matter where we each may go during the increasingly hectic days, it is here that we start each morning and here we end each night. This is one of the intricate and intimate connections that make us a family.

So, I took a picture. That in itself was a story. Our dining room is in fact an eat in kitchen. It is quite small with room just to walk around the table. My husband sits at the head near the living room...which happens to be the only good vantage point from which to take a picture of the whole table. However, I really wanted to immortalize what it looked like from where I was sitting. So, I tried squeezing in between my chair and the window. I still could only get one side or the other...not the whole picture. When all was said and done, I had to hang backwards out the window (10-12 feet up) in order to get this shot-which still isn't great. I debated getting the ladder and setting it outside the window to get the shot I wanted but I am scared of heights ... and it was raining ...and dark.

As I was thinking about this photo, it occured to me that our table itself recounts the history of our family growth and blessings. When Allen and I moved into our first apartment we had no table at all. Our first meal, in our first home together, was fried chicken on the dining room floor. The first dining set, in our first kitchen was about the size of most coffee tables, with four little chairs. It might make one think of a dollhouse dining set. But it was just right for us and our first daughter.

Despite our desire for a large family, with our share of fertility issues it seemed that would be our future. Three of us around a quiet little table. Eating our gourmet dinner full of dignity and composure. What a difference some prayer, a carpenter and 14 years can make!

In our next home, my brother came to live with us and, by God's grace, we added our second and third daughters. I traded my little table for my single sister's slightly larger one. It seemed enormous to me. This one could seat six! I passed on all my little tablecloths and started sewing new ones as each season arrived.

Expecting our fourth, we moved again and had no dining room. Our new eat in kitchen was larger than anything we'd ever need. Or so we thought. Until baby four and five came along. We no longer had enough seats at the table that just two years before seemed so immense. I began looking for tables to fit us all that would also allow for our growing family and future daughters and sons-in-laws. And their children. Such tables were few and very expensive. That would have to be put on hold.

Just the same, the holidays were approaching and we needed room for our extended family for Thanksgiving dinner. A trip to Target and our new dining room table became two conference tables placed side by side. Our chairs were a mish mosh of hand me downs and cast offs. Some the woven seats had worn through and a board across the seat with a cushion on top had replaced them. I bought table cloths in pairs now. For no one made them big enough to fit such a wide table. And, who had time to sew?

And...I started a savings account for a new dining set. At first it looked pathetic as I would tuck away gifts I received on birthdays. Then I added a little extra grocery money once in a while. When my husband found out what I was doing, he lovingly teased me. "We would never need such a big table," he said. "Where would we put such a big table? he asked." But as baby six arrived he changed the way he gave gifts. One birthday, instead of a wrapped package, I got a bank printout showing a deposit into my little account. He had written across the bottom, "Here is a dining room chair." And during leaner times, "Happy Mother's Day, here is half a chair."

As is always the case in our Italian family, eventually the word got out, that I had a plan. For Christmas one year my parents gave me a check with a memo on the bottom, "For your dining room table." And from then on with fervor, the whole clan added to the fund bit by bit. If we sold a loaf of bread in went $5. If I got a gift, in it went. When I won prize money for my sewing and canning entries at the fair, in it went. If it was a holiday, everyone knew a contribution to the table fund was the gift for me. There was no gift that would ever be as special as one day sitting down to a holiday dinner with all of us gathered at the same table. My dream had become the cause of my entire family.

And then it happened. One day, through the recommendation of a friend, I called a man in the Mennonite community who makes custom furniture for a living. I had checked into carpenters who would custom build a table before. The cost was so high, that on more than one occasion I told my husband I would have great grand children before we got our table. But this gentleman gave me hope. Not only was it more reasonable than the $10,000 quotes I'd been getting, but I already had enough to cover the estimate he gave me on the phone!

It felt like Christmas morning the Saturday my husband and I loaded the kids in the car and made the hour long drive to his shop. There he asked me questions about wood, legs and aprons. What type of chair? What color stain? I didn't know how to answer any of his questions. I just wanted a table. After quite some time we made all our choices and got the final quote. It was now early fall and he said he could have it done the week before Christmas.

I was a little disappointed that it wouldn't be in time for Thanksgiving. We always have a crowd and how special it would be to set a proper table and have enough chairs to go around. But, it was a big job and I had waited so long already. What were a few more weeks in the grand scheme of things? And that was that.

Until the Monday before Thanksgiving. Our carpenter called. He wanted to know if it would be alright to deliver our table early. Um, sure. "How early are we talking?" I inquired. "Well, what about the next day? It is finished and all those chairs are taking up a lot of room in the workshop." Can you believe it? Not only was I going to have my table, but I was going to have it in time for our big Thanksgiving feast!

It was a festive occasion, indeed, the next evening when he unloaded a 16 foot table and 20 dining chairs. And when the family arrived for the first holiday dinner, it was with great joy in my heart that I sat beside my husband and looked around the table at the faces of my generous loved ones who had made it possible for all of us to join hands together as we lifted prayers of thanks and praise to our Lord who not only meets our every need but gives us the desires of our hearts.

Indeed, this is not where I was headed with this post. You, my dear reader, can consider it a bonus. Or hit that little x at the top of your screen if my ramblings leave you snoozing. Because, the seemingly never ending rain has left me wordy, I will now call this part one and continue this story in a new post. Lest the batteries die in all your laptops trying to read it. Or worse...I bore you all to death!

9 comments :

  1. well written blog. may god bless you and your happy family with more happines

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  2. Love the story about the table. So sweet to see Aedan sleeping at the table. He must have had a really busy day! :)

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  3. You didn't bore me one bit. I know that the special stories can't be condensed into one or two sentences. Eating together is like the glue that binds a great family together. I hope that as my family grows so will my table because I want us all to be able to share our thoughts on the day together as your family does. And, it's so sweet that your entire family was able to come together and give you such a treasured gift, not just the table but a gift of togetherness.

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  4. Well, I am quite glad I did not hit the X up in the corner. This was a very nice read. What a wonderful story. Plus, I was very curious what those round things on the table were =) great post!

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  5. I love this about your table! How special that you now have it forever captured. Although, I'm sure it was already forever captured in the hearts and memories of your children when they think back about their family. How special that they will have so many memories of all being gathered around that table. Gives me goosebumps to think of it!

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  6. I loved this post! And I love your table! We have a long one, but it isn't as wide, which makes it hard to have the food in the middle for holidays! And when we are all around the table for dinner, only one side of the table can easily get in and out for getting forgotten things. And I love your son asleep at the table! So sweet. This post made me think of a website I visit where she is recording Memorial Stones in words for her family. I am working on mine for later this month. I am including the link in case you are interested. Can't wait to read the rest!

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  7. Ok, it would help if I left the link! Sorry!

    http://gratefulforgrace.blogspot.com/2009/03/memorial-stones.html

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  8. Hi there,

    I'm a friend of Diann's and just popped in to read about your family. I'm a big family lover myself and I love the stories she tells me about y'all!

    Love this story about your table and can't wait to read the rest of your entries!

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  9. Whew!! I got through the long read, but it was well worth it. You have a gift in writing and I enjoyed hearing about how your family banned together for the great cause, the quintessential Italian dinner table! So much love and laughter will be shared around your table during mealtime throughout the years. God is good... all the time.

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