Growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s, my childhood home had both a kitchen table and a dining room table, but rarely did we eat meals outside the confines of the kitchen. Nothing extraordinary, the dining room table was pretty much reserved for homework and holidays. For a while that dining room table was even home to something that may very well have been the first of its kind in our suburban neighborhood, an Apple II computer. At our kitchen table, every day a folded newspaper would be waiting next to my father’s place setting. The food was served from pots rather than in serving dishes, probably to keep one of us four sisters who was on washing duty that week from complaining about too many dishes. You see, the automatic dishwasher didn’t appear in our childhood home until us girls were all grown and slowly leaving the nest. Although I don’t recall deep intellectual conversations around the dinner table, I do recall lots of nonsensical chatter occurring, us sisters babbling on about something from the day all the while my father read his newspaper.
Years later, I would eat dinner for the first time at the family home of my future husband where the food was served at the dining table in serving dishes. Moreover, those serving dishes were passed around in clock-wise fashion. There was no free-for-all, like at my house. Afraid to speak much, everything seemed very proper there. At age eighteen, I decided I was in no way going to appear manner-less in this new environment, so for me, it was best to say as little as possible. I recall there not being as much conversation at this dinner table, which made me (an introvert) just a tad uncomfortable coming from a home where not much was off limits. I remember being afraid to ask to have the salt passed; (1) because we didn’t pass things at my house. If you wanted it, you simply raised yourself from your seat and reached for it and (2) due to the fact that there wasn’t much conversation to distract me, I was quick to observe that no one in this family seemed to salt their food. Maybe they would think less of me for wanting to add a dash or two … or three of my second favorite condiment (chocolate being my first) to my meal. It was at this table that I learned that there is a correct direction to pass food, that you don’t start eating your dessert until the hostess has served everyone and is seated again, and the table where grace was consistently said.
Fast forward again, married and our family completed (for the time being) with four kids, I discovered that Tim and I developed a mix from both childhood tables. Chatter, sometimes loud and incessant, from mine and etiquette from Tim’s. It works well; so well that not only when Tim designed the house in which we now reside did he make our dining room size conducive to having our extended family sitting around the table, but the kitchen space has that ability as well. Our kitchen is the space you walk into when you enter the main door of our house. It’s also larger than our family room and he did this on purpose. Apparently, over the years he was doing some observing of his own. He witnessed that in many houses, family and friends gather around the kitchen spaces instead of the family room. I have noticed countless times where we have had a houseful of people and no one was in the family room. We have an open floor-plan, so overflow can happen easy. It didn’t matter, the kitchen counter was and is the place to be. Of course, it helps that Tim made the counter space large enough to set 7 stools, with the capability to comfortably accommodate 10. I jokingly tell him I feel like I work in a diner sometimes, cooking, serving, cleaning but with the added benefit of being able to participate in the conversations that occur. I say, don’t underestimate the power of a kitchen counter.
That being said, while we eat at the dining room table on Sunday evenings as a family, we use the counter a lot during the week. Sometimes it bothers Tim that we’re not at the table more, but I remind him that the kitchen counter can also be our dining table. During the week, the kids that live at home are here and there, sometimes having to eat early to get a church study, a school concert, worship practice or a meeting and sometimes they’ll eat later because they’re just getting home from school, swim or track practice. They still sit at the counter and we still get to share in their lives. The kids that have left the nest still come in, immediately sit down at the counter and start talking.
The counter is a great communication space, perhaps because it’s not as formal as a dining table. There’s no pressure or expectation to contribute to a conversation, like there might be in a more formal setting. We’ve had our share of great conversations and heart-to-hearts at both the dining table and at the counter, but the counter seems to be the go-to space for most of those these days. When we’re not eating at the dining room table, it’s being used for homework, drawing, board games and the newly introduced card game of Dutch Blitz (the traditional family card game of Pinochle now has some competition).
As the kids get older and busyness becomes more commonplace, my advice is to create as many opportunities for communication and conversation, even if it’s at the kitchen counter and you feel compelled to say, “order up!”
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:6