07 January 2010

Family dinner recollections

I was reading an essay by The Blushing Hostess in which she promotes reclaiming the family dinner hour, the kind I (sort of) remember when I was a kid. Setting the table, fresh prepared food, serving plates, bread basket, a pitcher of tea. Reading her essay brought back so many startlingly clear memories that it inspired me to dwell on them for a moment or two.

Our family dinner table was the place where my mother taught us basic table manners. Placing a napkin in our laps, holding our silverware properly, passing the salad bowl, navigating the tricky combination of eating and conducting polite conversation. My father never failed to proclaim that the meatloaf was delicious and he ended each meal with a thank you.

Supper was not a leisurely activity because there were a variety of tasks that needed tending to each evening afterwards, homework among them. Our meals were simple; my father assisted by tossing a salad, my brother and I set the table and fed the pets, and we all participated in clean-up afterwards. Telephone calls, music, television, magazines or anything else that did not belong at the dinner table was prohibited.

As I grew older, I learned to appreciate how my mother cared for table linens, pressed the napkins and used pretty greenery and ribbon to set a festive table on holidays and other special occasions. Having a meal in the dining room by candlelight was an exciting luxury to be savored. I considered it a special treat to drink my water from a pretty goblet and noticed that the clink of our knives and forks against the china plates sounded ever so much nicer than our ordinary tableware.

As the Blushing Hostess points out, family dinner is often victim to competing priorities. But without family dinner, there is not much opportunity to glean the essentially important life lessons generally imparted around the supper table. I’m squarely in her corner on this particular topic.


  1. While I can recall all this pagentry and cerimony when I was growing up in the 50s an 60s, it is sort of lost on me today....I drink milk right out of the cartoon at the refridgerator........(I am so ashamed....)

  2. There is no substitute for the connection made at dinner time. And I really love that your mom did it with such grace.

  3. So true. I remember when we got up from the table, we had to say "Thank you. May I please be excused?" I'm so grateful to mom for teaching me manners. And cannot believe how many adults just don't have them.

  4. You may already know this, but there have actually been studies done on what do "successful" kids have in common when they're from all different types of lives and families. By successful they meant, stays out of trouble and does well in school. They found that no matter if the kid was rich or poor, had one parent or 3, the common factor was sitting down to a "family dinner" (however family is defined) at least 3 times a week.
    Pretty interesting.

  5. I may be old fashioned, but I still do family dinner every day. On occasion, someone may be absent, but we still do it. And that is the famous five oclock cell phone call from the kids "what's for dinner, mom?"