The oval table sits at the end of the kitchen in the 1950’s rambler. It is tucked into a corner with a window looking out at cousin Leroy’s house. A pocket door leading into the dining room interrupts another wall. A counter, held up by bottom shelves, extends like an arm prepared for a handshake. On top of the counter sits a small TV. The fourth wall is lined with cabinets and holds the telephone, that was, not so long ago, a member of the community’s party line. The kids remember the operator’s name, and the news that traveled quickly, and not always knowingly.
The tables’ five chairs are on rollers. They are soft and covered in faux leather. The rollers make it possible for one to never get up out of the chair if there is a need to secure more sugar, refill a coffee cup, add more cookies to the plate, or answer the telephone.
Our day at the table begins with breakfast. Cereal bowls are filled with oatmeal and juice enjoyed in the small orange and blue glasses. Conversation is sluggish, like an old car battery not wanting to turn over. After a few cups of coffee, the pace picks up and the day fully begins.
After the oatmeal settles a bit, its time for “coffee”, which means bringing out the cookies Miriam has stored in the cool garage in large Tupperware bins. We catch up on the news of the neighborhood, relatives, who’s the new pastor at the church around the corner, and how the crops are faring. Before you know it, its time for lunch. Sandwiches are made, the favorite being creamed asparagus on toast. More conversation ensues as we enjoy protein and vegetables.
After lunch, while a few leave the table to lie down for a nap, the others clean up the table and wash the dishes, making room for clean coffee cups and the afternoon plate of cookies. One year, Miriam made 13 different varieties for Christmas. We would try each one, multiple times.
As the day progressed, the light from the window changed and dusk was at hand. This meant preparing supper – a roast, or some fried chicken. At six o’clock, as the empty cookie plate was taken off the table and replaced by dinner plates, we enjoyed our evening repast. When the clock hit 6:30 it was time to turn on that small TV and watch Jeopardy.
After we played a rousing game of Jeopardy with Alex Trebek, we moved headlong into the competition segment of the day. The games came out onto the table: cards, Whist, and Scrabble. Miriam was whip-smart and we could not even come close to competing with her in Scrabble. She was a teacher who knew her Latin and French. She was a voracious reader; getting her reading in during the late night hours, after all her seven kids were in bed. After getting routinely beat by her in the first game of scrabble, she was just getting warmed up for a second game.
As the games wound down, the TV was turned back on to the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. This was the signal to bring out the Kemps ice cream and the homemade chocolate flavor, the perfect ending to a full-filling, well-sated, lovely day. All it takes is a table and really comfortable, soft chairs, time and the love of family.
Mary Halvorson is a Lutheran pastor, writer, mother, and grandmother. This table memory is from her mother-in-law’s table in Sheyenne, ND.