The first kitchen table I recall fondly was my maternal grandmother’s table. It took up most of the long kitchen and had often been filled with parents, nine children, and guests. But I loved entering it in the morning when Grandmama was listening to her soap operas on the radio—“Young Doctor Malone,” “The Guiding Light,” and “Helen Trent” are some I remember.
Grandmama would give me my sausage and eggs and biscuits she’d prepared before Granddaddy left for work. Then she’d fix me a cup of coffee that was half cream and sugar. Mmmm, did I feel pampered! We’d talk about what we’d done the day before or our plans for that day. She never said, “You’d better get dressed so we can get to work,” like my mother did. She seemed to have nothing on earth to do but talk with me. I still feel the coziness of sitting at the end of that long table with the old black wood cookstove nearby and Grandmama working at some kind of food—stringing beans, or cutting corn, or canning. She loved for me to help when I was ready, but she never asked for help. She just made me feel cherished.
The next kitchen table I loved belonged to Ruby Totty of Totty’s Bend, Tennessee. Ruby was about forty, I guess, and had been swept off her feet in South Carolina by Harold Totty, a young serviceman on maneuvers during WWII. He fell hard for the beautiful Ruby and brought her back with him to be a farmer’s wife. Steve preached at Totty’s Bend Church of Christ from 1964 to 1966 and her table welcomed us anytime we stopped by. The church was about 90 minutes from our apartment, so we would stay all afternoon, taking turns eating Sunday dinner with various church families. But even if we hadn’t eaten with Ruby that day, after evening services she would often say with her soft Southern accent, “I have a chocolate cake on my table just waiting for you to stop by.” And since we were young enough to value chocolate cake and Ruby and Harold’s company over getting to bed on time, we’d always go by for cake and coffee and conversation.
Another kitchen table was Steve’s dad’s table in his various little apartments after Mom died. He kept their long “harvest table,” and moved it to each new location as he sought peace and comfort without his beloved Dorothy, always thinking that the next place would work out better. We’d often have breakfast there with him, and he would scurry around the kitchen, trying to make our cereal and donuts and coffee just right for us. It’s a precious scene to me, little Kelsey and early-teen Josh as we sat around that harvest table that had so many memories for Steve and me of when his mother would host with her bountiful meals.
My mother’s kitchen table for the last 36 years of her life was a round table at a bay window overlooking her back yard. When the house was full of guests, we ate at the larger dining room table, but when it was just Mother, Steve, and I, we ate at the kitchen table, lingering over her warm cinnamon rolls and coffee, honoring the tradition of “I really shouldn’t eat any more” and “But you’ve got to have one more” that was both comical and comforting. At those times, Mother was her softer self with us—not agitated, not critical, not managing, except to manage our hot coffee and warm food. She would talk in pleasant tones, often mentioning someone she’d been working with and wanted us to pray for or bringing up a human relations problem she wanted advice on.
After she developed crippling rheumatoid arthritis, I would be the one to get up and down, but she still orchestrated it all. Her quick wit entertained us and helped us to ignore her physical limitations.
In our marriage, our earlier kitchen tables were the ones where our reluctant eaters would sit long after the family had moved on, as they were determined to eventually eat the vegetables and earn dessert. The kitchen table we have now has been with us only eighteen years, but already it holds warm memories—meals of laughter and conversation and lingering long after the food was gone. It’s seen multitudes of games of Boggle, Pit, and Scrabble, and, more recently, Qwirkle.
I’m reminded of a song our children used to sing, based on Song of Solomon 2:4. The only line I remember is “He gathers us into his banqueting table; his banner over us is love.” I think that’s what appeals to me about these kitchen tables: the banner over them is love. They are all where I felt loved and treasured.
We’ve enjoyed many meals at many beautiful and bounteous tables, but it’s the kitchen tables that mean the most to me. Do you have good kitchen table memories to share?