Gather Around

When you Google “dining room table,” you’ll find many places to purchase a table, instructions on how to set a table, DIY lessons on how to decorate your holiday table, farm-to-table events, and loads of Pinterest boards, but what you don’t find is the everyday life of a table. The consistent breakfasts, the Sunday suppers, the long talks, the telling of stories, the food, ah, the food.

This simple, maybe even function-over-form, piece of furniture in our homes is all too often overlooked. In fact, there are trends that suggest people are eliminating the dining room all together. I’m guessing because they are a household on the go. Still, coming together at the table—whether it is for all of your meals, nightly dinner, or just the weekly Sunday supper—is a gift that we share with those with whom we share our homes everyday.

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Growing up as the oldest of five children, my mother made sure we all knew how to properly set a table. There were rules around the table, too. There was to be no TV and no phone calls. We had to ask to be excused and we all had to help clean up. We were to sit together and share a meal and talk to one another.

My father was so particular about us sitting together that he had a huge round table made for my parents’ home. It is beautiful. It is made from Curly Maple with a lazy Susan to match.

My father is already threatening to have a bigger table built because he wants all the grandkids to be able to sit with us, too. While I appreciate his sentiments, there is a bit of a rite of passage to cross over from the kid’s table to the adult table.

The dinner table is where some of my very favorite memories of growing up originate, beginning with the year my parents announced that we were going to have another brother. My father awkwardly placed his arm around my mother and announced that we need to have a family meeting. They proceeded to share the good news. My two younger siblings were ecstatic. At fourteen I had just began to understand how it all works. Gross.

We were encouraged to invite friends for meals. It was a big deal when I invited my first high school boyfriend to come over for dinner. I remember my sister looked at my boyfriend and said, “Chris, you have little beads of water above your lip.” Clearly, he was sweating from nerves! He casually wiped his face with his napkin (cloth, of course, because it was a nice dinner as my mom would say). Two minutes later my sister looked up at him and said “Chris now you have water on your forehead.”

I was mortified. I think my parents must have been dying on the inside trying to hold back the laughter. The meal went on and on like this, and is marked as one of the funniest dinners we have ever had. These memories shared at the dining room table over a homemade meal are the glue that holds us together today.

Today, we come together and still squeeze around the table for Sunday dinner. It is the place where we share our joys of coming babies and sorrows for the loss of people near to our hearts. All birthdays are celebrated with a dinner. My mother will make whatever you request. Cake follows the meal. Christmas, New Year’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Easter, even the summer holidays, like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, must be dinner. And, the table is there through it all.

My parents gave each of us a table. Heirlooms passed down from our grandparents and great grandparents, the first table my parents had when they were married, the special one found at a flea market. There might be no more important piece of furniture in a Hanley home than the dining room table.

The table has been a place where I have made lifelong friendships throughout the different places I called home. There are so many stories in my life that begin with, “We were at the table when . . .” and for this I have to thank my parents. They instilled in me that when you eat, you eat together, whether just two people or 20—and at a table. And, they are right. It is the best way to share a meal, build bridges, share memories, make friends, learn, laugh, and love.