Going through my archives, I came across this article I wrote when I was in my late 20s or early 30s. I still agree with what I wrote then…except the part about wanting stay up past my bedtime. What was I thinking????
When I was a little girl, there were two tables for the holiday dinners: the “big” table, where all the grown-ups sat, and the “little” table, a cloth-draped card table, where the children ate. Some of our cousins resented sitting at the little table. I remember when Georgia, who was about 10 or 11, created such a fuss that she got squeezed into the big table between her mother and father. Later, my mother used her tantrum as an example of behavior we’d better never try if we knew what was good for us!
Looking back, I understand Georgia’s seating arrangement rebellion as impending adolescence making itself known to the family. But at the time, I thought she was crazy! I loved sitting at the little table! Consider the advantages. First of all, to my mother’s credit, the little table had all the grown-up accoutrements: “company” tablecloths and napkins, the same “good” china and silverware that the adults were using, our own cut-glass relish tray and fancy salt shakers, and best of all, the traditional holiday snowball-shaped candle for our centerpiece. We were dining in style!
And even though we were seated right next to the big table, let’s face it, we were on our own and free to amuse ourselves by being utterly childish at the dinner table! We could (and would) take big bites of turkey, dressing, potatoes and cranberry sauce, then open our mouths to gross each other out. We tested our courage and daring by sticking our fingers into the pool of hot wax in the snowball candle. Nobody was there to tell us we would burn ourselves. We each discovered that reality personally and painfully, and forever internalized the concept of fire as a force of nature to be treated with respect. But it was neat to have little wax coats on our fingertips.
The little table was the epitome of childhood for me. I don’t remember when I first moved to the big table. Since I was one of the youngest children in the family, I think the little table sort of evaporated. By the time the next generation was old enough to attend big family dinners, we had gotten more casual. If the family ate together at all, it was buffet-style, with everyone eating at the coffee table, on TV trays or picnic-style on the living room floor.
But since the deaths of my grandparents, aunt and uncles, and especially my parents, I’ve come to realize that I’m now forever seated at the big table. And there are advantages: sharp knives, wine, not having to ask to be excused. There are also implications to being a member of the big table that extend beyond the dining room. We are the ones in charge. We can stay up way past our bedtimes and we don’t have to clean up our rooms if we don’t want to. We can spend all our money on candy and we don’t have to share it. As the grown-ups, we are limited only by the restrictions we create and perceive.
But I think sometimes we ought to remember to stick our fingers in the candle wax.