A Seat at the Table

Festive!

Once upon a time, most of my extended family lived within a few miles of each other. If your family is fun, I recommend this. My childhood holidays were, without fail, happy and lively affairs.

Different relatives divvied up hosting duties. My Auntie Susan covered Easter. Grandma Dacey covered Christmas. And Thanksgiving was hosted at our house, under the ruthless supervision of Mom. When I was a kid, Mom didn’t trust me to do anything that involved cooking—which was wise—so she did everything herself. My role was to be on call for assorted bits of unskilled labor.

“Get the big bowl. You know the one,” Mom yelled over the roar of the hand mixer.

I reached for a bowl.

“No, not that bowl. The big bowl.”

I reached for a big bowl.

No, the other big bowl. The yellow one. It’s in the lower cabinet.”

I reached for the cabinet knob.  

“The other lower cabinet. To your left. Your other left. No! Look! Look where I’m pointing. Am I pointing there? Really? You think I’m pointing there?! Then I’m going to tell Santa to get you a trip to the eye doctor because I’m not pointing anywhere ne— Oh, for God sakes! Never mind, I’ll get it!”

Then Mom ordered me out to set the dining room table.

Our dining room table was large under any circumstances, but grew to mammoth proportions after I locked the two wooden leaves into place. It still wasn’t nearly big enough to accommodate all the relatives, however, so Mom sent me to fetch the card table. This I would wedge against the end of the real table to make one, super long mega-mammoth table. The seats around this hasty addition were reserved for the youngest in the family: Cousin Celeste, Cousin Jason, and me.

And oh, how I hated sitting there. Not because of Celeste or Jason; I loved talking to those two. It was the crummy table, which was shorter and wobblier than the Real Table. Sitting there made me feel like a second-class citizen.

It was a classic case of the Haves and Have-Nots. The adults, the Haves, had a nice cherry wood table from Ethan Allen with matching chairs that were both stately and comfy. They had a real tablecloth, that is to say it was actually made from some kind of cloth. They used the good China and the real silverware.

Celeste, Jason, and I , on the other hand, sat our skinny butts on folding chairs; rested our elbows on one of those crinkly, papery, plastic-y table cloths; and ate on and with the same crummy dishes and flatware that I used every ding-dang day.

So I seethed with outrage.

This was my house, too, I reasoned. Shouldn’t I have a spot at the Good Table? Heck, Mom made me polish the silverware. Shouldn’t I at least be stabbing my turkey with a classy fork?

Year after year, I took my meals in the culinary ghetto. By the time I turned nine I had had enough. I begged Mom to find me a spot at the Good Table.

“There’s no more room,” she replied.

“I could switch spots with someone!”

“Who?”

“Dad!” I announced. It seemed logical. Dad was clumsy, slow, and weirdly passive aggressive about performing household chores; he always found a way to screw them up somehow. Dad was totally a card-table guy.

But Mom was unconvinced. She was Old School; to her way of thinking, a kid could never, ever, in any way, outrank an adult—even if the adult in question just brought home yet another leaky carton of milk.

“You can get a spot at the table when you’re older.” she replied.

What Mom meant by this was, “You can get a spot at the table when somebody dies.”

So as I took my place at the card table that Thanksgiving, I sullenly surveyed the Ethan Allen Aristocracy to my immediate left.

Shameful thoughts tiptoed across my mind.

To be clear, I wasn’t wishing anyone dead. I loved these people. I was just…checking them out. Just because. Just to see.

Aunt Marion looked a little paler than usual. That was interesting. And Uncle Bill seemed to be having a little more trouble getting around. And Grandma Allegra was always saying things like, “I won’t be around much longer.” And wasn’t she like a thousand years old?

These thoughts were suddenly interrupted by an unpleasant shiver firing up my spine.

What was I doing?!

Thanksgiving wasn’t a day to covet what you don’t have; it was a day to show gratitude for what you do have. And I had plenty! More than most! I had a roof over my head and a soft bed and a backyard and an awesome family and a great meal and about a zillion other things that I took for granted every day.

And I was fixated on this?! Really?!

Ugh. How spoiled. How petty. I felt the shame wash over me.

So I shoved the idea out of my head. I returned to my food. It was delicious.

I asked for someone to pass the gravy boat.

Dad reached for it. And then he dropped it. Because of course he did.

As a half dozen napkins darted toward the nasty brown stain seeping into the tablecloth, I caught Mom’s eye. Her expression was impossible to misinterpret.

And I smiled. Because I knew for a fact that this time next year Dad and I would be switching seats.

And I was thankful.  

45 Replies to “A Seat at the Table”

  1. I laughed so much, I didn’t merely LOL–I laughed out loud. An important distinction!

    Haven’t we all been at that dang card table either literally or metaphorically? Story of my career really.

    Good stuff –when are we getting together??

  2. Coveting a spot at the grown-up table meant being under the scrutiny of the adults, meaning remembering manners and which fork to use when. Nah, reserve me a spot at the kids’ table in the next room where we rejoiced in stuffing olives in our lips and snorted in laughter at irrelevant banter.

    1. Unfortunately, the card table was shoved right up against the real table so the kids were under constant supervision from the adults. We had neither the dining comforts nor the freedom to be immature. It was a lose/lose situation if there ever was one.

  3. My Grandchildren get mixed in simply because of their skinny butts and making enough room for everyone! LOL. Too many fat butts? I can only get 4 to a side of my table. Throw a skinny butt in there and I CAN GET 5 ON ONE SIDE!!! lol

  4. A Seat at the Table On Thursday, December 2, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

    > heylookawriterfellow posted: ” Festive! Once upon a time, most of my > extended family lived within a few miles of each other. If your family is > fun, I recommend this. My childhood holidays were, without fail, happy and > lively affairs. Different relatives divvied up hosting duties” >

      1. You are correct. Dad wasn’t demoted. Mom decided that he was too clumsy to sit at such a wobbly table. I had to wait a couple of years, receiving my promotion when Uncle Bill died. (He apparently, really was having more trouble getting around.)

      2. card table friends.

        On Wednesday, December 8, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

        > heylookawriterfellow commented: “You are correct. Dad wasn’t demoted. Mom > decided that he was too clumsy to sit at such a wobbly table. I had to wait > a couple of years, receiving my promotion when Uncle Bill died. (He > apparently, really was having more trouble getting around.)” >

    1. We were grateful to have him home from work wherever he sat was his.

      On Friday, December 3, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

      > Polysyllabic Profundities commented: “LOVED this!! But I have to ask, did > you and your dad switch seats the next Thanksgiving??” >

    2. Sadly, no. It was (accurately) determined that clumsy Dad would do more damage at a wobbly card table than he ever could at the Real Table. A year or two later, however, I did get my promotion when my Uncle Bill met his Great Reward. (Technically, I shouldn’t have gotten this seat; Cousin Celeste, being older than me, was the legitimate heir. But I was persistent and Mom was tired of listening to me whine) Celeste had to wait a VERY long time before another seat opened up.

      1. the correct bowl

        On Wednesday, December 8, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

        > heylookawriterfellow commented: “To be fair, I often catch myself looking > right when people say “LEFT!” I don’t know why.” >

  5. So funny, and it’s all true! I remember coming home from college and still being stuck with you at the card table. And I was in college for a really long time.

  6. You had me laughing out loud — especially when you tried to figure out who’d die first!! So funny! I remember the card table days. But, didn’t mind it because our card table was set a distance from the adults so we could have our own fun without listening to boring adult conversations or mind our manners!

      1. I hear conversations when I am eating at a restaurant always kept secret with me. I hear conversations of police, business owners, parents growing their children.

        On Saturday, December 11, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

        > Patricia Tilton commented: “Hey, just a reminder of the Erma Bombeck > Writing contest. It began Nov. 30 and runs through Jan. 4, 450 words or > fewer. You’ve written some great material and you always make us laugh. > Hope you think about participating. Here is the link: https://wclib” >

  7. Your other left, super long mega-mammoth table, crinkly, papery, plastic-y table cloths, every ding-dang day, I knew for a fact that this time next year Dad and I would be switching seats. Just a few of my favorite lines in this wonderfully “colorful” piece. There weren’t enough Humbargar/Schusters in our family to warrant a card table but I can imagine. This made me laugh and, yes, be grateful for what I have. Thanks!

  8. My unofficially adopted son, a son whose parents are wards of the law now visits me regularly. He was throwing something away asking where the trash was. I told him the third door on your Left. He opened the first door, then the second, then the third. He eventually got it. I bypass his irritations caúse of his parental handicap of missing his parents love. I told him I will try to be the parent he needs, seeing I am close to his mothers age. You mentioned not that door,,, and more.

    On Wednesday, December 8, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

    > heylookawriterfellow commented: “Sadly, no. It was (accurately) determined > that clumsy Dad would do more damage at a wobbly card table than he ever > could at the Real Table. A year or two later, however, I did get my > promotion when my Uncle Bill met his Great Reward. (Technically, I shoul” >

  9. Oh, how I remember the card table at the end of the main table, I had forgotten it until reading your post. Thanks for the memories of long ago, busy, happy childhood.

    1. Card table , at college we had decoration time to clean our rooms, decorate our doors, and then when time came, we visited other rooms We would also help each other.

      On Saturday, December 18, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

      > judithhb commented: “Oh, how I remember the card table at the end of the > main table, I had forgotten it until reading your post. Thanks for the > memories of long ago, busy, happy childhood. ” >

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