oh, i'm so delighted to have my sister-in-law, emily pilgreen allen, share a powerful story she has written about a symbol of family. a symbol of culture. it's a powerful picture. one that will have you rethinking the table in your home. your apartment. one that will have you revisiting the table of your childhood. welcome emily.
A Table Between Us
Come pull up a chair at the kitchen table. This is where all the important things happen in our family. This was true when I was a child and it’s true with my family now as a mother and wife. When I was a girl, we lived in a very modest home. It wasn’t large and it didn’t hold expensive furniture, but it was a place where memories, both good and bad, were made. Almost all of my childhood memories were made at our kitchen table. It was just a cheap table that my parents picked up at a wholesale store. More than one leg was wobbly on the cheaply made dining chairs. There were nicks on the table where it had been stabbed with a fork by my older brothers, no doubt. There were permanent white marks where a too-hot paper plate had been placed. Yet, somehow, this table was holy. It was sacred.
You can imagine life could be crazy with four kids, especially as we started getting older and were involved in more activities. However, I can’t remember many meals we didn’t eat together at the table. It always amazed me when I went to a friend’s house and everyone ate in front of the television or went to their own rooms, plates in hand. Dinner was seen as a ritual at our house. There was no tv allowed to be on while we were eating. My dad also had a rule of no singing at the table…now that I am a mom, I totally get this one. After my mom was finished slaving over a hot stove, we would all gather at the table. We each had our “assigned” seat and we never sat in anyone else’s seat.
Before we were allowed to take even a single bite of food, we had to pray first. I remember being impatient about this as a child because it seemed to take forever for six people to get their food and take a seat at the table. As we prayed, we would hold hands with the people to the left and right of us. Sometimes this was hard because there had been arguments prior to eating dinner and the last thing you wanted to do was hold the hand of someone who had made you angry. I think this was intentional on the part of my parents though. It’s hard to stay angry with someone when you are praying and holding their hand!
My mom didn’t make a lot of different meals, or even complicated ones, but she was a great cook. She loved to fry just about everything, and there was always a surplus of butter at our house. It was always a special time when one of us had a birthday. We were able to plan our birthday meal, and she would make whatever we wanted. Usually, our main request was her homemade chicken nuggets. She would make them with sesame seeds and a pancake-like batter. I can still taste them now just thinking about them. She also made this amazing chocolate pie that I would give just about anything to have a slice of right now.
Even though my mom usually did the cooking, my dad was a master when it came to grilling. He made the best burgers, steaks, and barbequed chicken. The smells were absolutely tantalizing waiting on the food to be done. My dad had learned to cook from his mom. She taught him how to make this amazing Irish stew that had been passed down from generation to generation. It was full of stew meat, potatoes, carrots and onions. My dad would make it on the first cold night of winter and it filled our bellies and warmed our souls.
We obviously did our fair share of eating, but not all my memories of the kitchen table have to do with food. We played many games at that table. I remember being so excited when I was considered old enough to play Rook. Everyone in my family was competitive when it came to playing cards, or any sort of game really. I learned that some people are willing to do anything, even cheat, to win. (I might be referring to a certain oldest brother of mine.) We also played Peanuts, Spades, and Battle. There was a lot of loud laughter, yelling, and getting angry and then making up.
Not all of my memories at the kitchen table are happy ones. I remember coming in too late one night as a teenager and finding my dad sitting at the end of the table. He explained to me, as best he could, what it felt like to love your child and not know where they are or if something terrible has happened to them. I didn’t see what the big deal was at the time, but now that I have my own babies, I fully understand. I remember serious talks about boyfriends and grades. I have a vivid memory of my mother sitting in her chair at the kitchen table, leaning over, as one of my brothers shaved her head. Her hair had started falling out from going through chemotherapy treatments and she made the brave decision to go ahead and get rid of it all. I also remember sitting at that table a few years later when my parents sat us all down to tell us that there was nothing more the doctors could do and hospice would be coming to our home to take over my mother’s care. Six weeks later, every inch of that same table was filled with food from friends as we gathered at our home after my mom’s funeral.
Throughout the years, the actual table itself has changed, but the sentiments are the same. Now I have my own table where my husband and I gather with our children as many nights as we can. We have the same rules: no television and no singing. We do, however, encourage communication and laughter. We talk about things that happened to us that day, good and bad. We study scripture together and join hands to pray for family and friends and that God will make all things beautiful in us in His time. Life is full of ups and downs, happy times and sad times, but I believe life is always better with a kitchen table between us.
emily pilgreen allen lives in ruston, louisiana with her husband, walter, and their four kids, jonah, emma, eva, and luke. emily's home is the hub when the pilgreens gather for the holidays. she is a gifted decorator, cook, baker, pianist, and singer. emily is passionate about exercise and healthy eating. you can find her on Facebook and follow her pins on pinterest!