The family table has been lauded for years as a solid place to start when it comes to raising kids. Apparently, children who regularly eat dinner around the table have a more extensive vocabulary, better academic performance, higher self-esteem, lower risk of depression, lower risk of developing eating disorders, so on and so forth. It’s not new for someone to tell parents they should fight hard to ring that dinner bell.
But this past weekend, I was struck almost speechless over the value of a family dinner for adults. It was Easter Sunday. We were at my parents’ house, and their rather large dining room table wouldn’t fit all the people who had shown up. When my mom and dad extend an invitation, we all know it’s open to anyone. So, people brought people. I knew everyone there before the meal got going, but I was fascinated by how good it felt to sit around a table and just talk. With others. About nothing.
UFO sightings from the early 1970s come up about once a year (because some members of the family claim they saw one, and others think this is hilariously preposterous), and this was the week for that annual debate. We talked about traveling baseball for middle schoolers, diamond mining in Arkansas, and who actually is responsible to pay for the modern American wedding anyway! Deutsche Bank’s recent predictions were thrown out, and we each pontificated on what will happen if the Germans are correct. Of course, we analyzed our Grizzlies and made our precious predictions about what’s ahead in the FedEx Forum.
The real estate market proves equally fun and frustrating to talk about. My aunt just bought a house with a pool, and I feel she’s nearly famous because of it. It seems nobody actually has the winning bid on a house these days. I asked my grandmother about her days working in the Sterick Building again. The summer of 1952 was one of the hottest on record, there was no air conditioning in there, and she worked on the southwest corner! It was so hot; it made her sick! I have heard it a thousand times, but it never gets old hearing about other eras. We’re considering putting on a screened-in porch and so everybody weighed in on whether or not that’s a good idea with subcontractors starting to work on the new Ford plant. The youngest family member starts school in the fall, and she preciously shared her excitement over kindergarten.
Several people at the table had injuries of one sort or another from accidents or sports or overuse. An enormous cup of Diet Coke (complete with ice) spilled across the kitchen floor. Several folks helped to sop it up. There were casseroles and mac and cheese, rolls and ham, deviled eggs and butter beans. My dad grilled several types of meat, and my aunt made pink fluff. Nobody really knows what pink fluff is; but she makes it every Easter, and it has tiny marshmallows in it, so we all love it. I never have figured out why it gets put on the table with all of the savory stuff instead of the desserts, but it’s the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down for the members of the family under seven years of age. My sister in Italy called us on FaceTime and so did my cousin in Mobile. She graduates from college this May, so we talked about which family members are going down for the ceremony. I’m sure it was highly frustrating for them to be passed around the table like a casserole, but we all loved seeing their shiny, happy faces.
I stopped for a brief moment and thought about each person at the table. Almost every single one has a pretty deep level of heartache going on right now, in their recent past, or coming at them on the horizon. Life has handed us all something we would have passed on if given the chance. Sometimes, pieces and parts of the hard are shameful for one reason or another, and those topics don’t come up at a table like this one. But that can be oddly comforting in its own way. For better or worse, humans will usually prefer to hide their hard.
At the same time, though, that table felt like an oasis in the desert. It didn’t take much to realize that this banquet was a banquet for the broken, and nobody who has it all together would have been comfortable there. The food wasn’t overly fancy, but it fed us. The company wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but we comforted each other. The talk wasn’t deep or dazzling, but it delighted us. Come to think of it, all of it was actually mostly just fluff—like the pink stuff. But in this phase of human history, it was exactly what we needed.
It was a little bit of sweet to cut the salt.
Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine, and now writes a column for The Daily Memphian.