On weekends, we sit down together for breakfast and lunch as well. This is as natural to me, to us, as breathing. I can never remember the time when this wasn’t so.
I was speaking to a dear friend recently, a friend who spent a lot of time with our family, and she talked about this habit we have of eating meals together. Our conversation made me think about what this ritual, this ceremony of eating food together, means to me and where it comes from.
As a child, I cannot remember a time when my mother didn’t set a table for the family meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. My father worked a lot and was frequently absent, buy my mother, sister and I sat down together to every meal, ate and conversed. In the afternoons, after school, we sat down for coffee, tea and cake.
During summer vacations which my sister and I almost always spent visiting grandparents in the village (first month with mother’s family, second month with father’s) the rituals were the same. The table was set for every meal. Everyone sat down to eat together.Family dinner at my grandparent’s house, 1967; my parents are first and second from the left; my sister is the little girl peeking on the right.
Sometimes, at these summer meals, there were a lot of people. Extended family members came to visit our grandparents as well, so there would be people of all ages and generations eating together. The children were always included, never exiled to a separate, children’s table.
When I married an American man, it never occurred to me to change this custom of sharing food. To tell you honestly, it never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about it. I assumed everyone did it.
And so my own little family sat down to a meal at a nicely set table for over thirty years. First it was just my husband Jeff and I. Then Mike came along. As soon as he was able to sit in his baby chair he was given a place at the family table. It took a bit of time to train him in his table manners (he had a habit of trowing his baby spoon into the soup tureen, making his dad hope that he’d make an excellent baseball player) but we persisted. Nena and Sam joined us in time as well.A recent dinner conversation at my sister’s house
Our meals together were never only about food, although sharing good food was always central to the experience. While we ate, we conversed about our days and what was happening to each person. We argued about issues, politics or music. The kids accused each other of this and that and Jeff and I tried to guide them to a resolution. We got mad at each other. We stopped being mad at each other. People made plans and we discussed them. When we went through illnesses and hard times, we talked and tried to make sense of them.
Tonight, I will take four or five plates (I am not sure how many family members will be joining us) and place them around the dinning table. Napkins on the left side. Silverware. Glasses filled with water. We’ll be eating tacos with ground beef and many different toppings: black beans, shredded cheese, tomato and avocado slices, chopped cilantro, salsa. Not the kind of meal I grew up with. The meals have evolved and we experiment with many different traditions and cuisines. But the way we eat them stays the same.
We sit around the table, we eat and we share our day with each other. It’s very comforting.