We have always been a kitchen table kind of family. We’re lucky, we have both an eat-in kitchen and a formal dining room. We use them both. We love them both. The kitchen table was the table in my husband’s house growing up. The ability to pull out an extra leaf from underneath and slide it into the very place you pulled it from is a never-ending source of amazement (well, to me). After 40 years or so of use, it was frankly kind of gross and hard to clean, or hard to make look clean. But still, we ate most meals around it.
The dining room table is huge and heavy. I bought it from an antique store in my late 20s, one of my first real furniture purchases. The table had come in the day before and needed refinishing, the chairs needed re-upholstering and so I got table and chairs for $200, delivered to my 3rd floor city apartment, which had it’s own dining room. I had wanted a Formica covered 1950’s diner-style table and chairs, but I did not have an eat in kitchen and I knew the table I wanted wouldn’t match my dining room. I had the chairs re-upholstered and left the table as is, assuming I would fix it one day. Spoiler alert, I have never fixed the dining room table.
We eat most meals at the kitchen table. The dining room is for company and Friday night dinner. Shabbat dinner is a holdover from the kids going to Jewish preschool and insisting on “special Shabbat dinner.” On Friday nights, we set the table with a tablecloth and our wedding china, we do the prayers, we always have dessert. For many years, Friday night dinner was always cheese tortellini, broccoli, and challah. It was the only meal everyone would reliably eat. Two of us are currently dairy free and so we’ve had to branch out and accept that not everyone will always love what we eat on Friday nights.
But most meals are in the kitchen. In the “before times,” the time before Covid-19, we usually managed to eat dinner together as a family 3-5 times a week. Sometimes there were evening classes, sometimes there was hockey, sometimes there were plays. Sometimes the dinners ended in one child or another storming out of the room. Sometimes (often), the kids loudly rejected my cooking and made their own PB&J. Sometimes after an hour or so of cooking and 15 minutes of eating I was left alone to spend 45 minutes cleaning, and it pissed me off. But when we could, we had dinner together.
When Covid came (to the country, not our house luckily), we had some rough spots with meals. One kid began to have stress-related stomach aches that left them barely able to eat, let alone eat with others. My husband began doing puzzles and there was a constant jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table. Being together 24/7 left us with less urge to come together for meals. There was a lot of eating snacks at the counter instead of meals. Friday night dinners were held in the kitchen, with no tablecloth, no china and sometimes even, most shockingly, no dessert.
When my husband finished his jigsaw puzzles, he took on a new project. He started refinishing the kitchen table. He moved the table to the basement and began work. Dinner, when it was held, was now held on a plastic table on the back porch. We felt surprisingly adrift without a kitchen table. We brought a folding table up to the kitchen simply to have a center. Refinishing the table didn’t take as long as a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, but it took awhile. There were 72 hour waits in between steps. The basement smelled of turpentine.
Then, it was done. Yesterday, my husband finished the table and brought it up the same day the kids began online high school. The table shines. I imagine it looks much like it did when my in-laws first brought it home, eager for a place to have their own family dinners. It’s surrounded by two squeaky thrift store chairs my husband bought in his 20s and two squeaky chairs we bought together at IKEA. Last year, when my husband was out of town I attempted to glue all the chairs back together to stop the squeaking. It was only moderately successful. Already on its second day as a newly done table the table is holding today’s newspaper, and a set of napkins, and a pen, and my downstairs glasses, and maybe my purse, I’ll have to check where I left it. No matter how clean and fresh a kitchen table is, it should still hold a little chaos. That is after all the purpose of a kitchen table, to contain the chaos of the family.
Our chairs and are lives are highly imperfect. But we have a kitchen table to hold the chaos and a dining room table for tradition and sometimes, with a little elbow grease, everything can look fresh and new.