In my childhood home, family dinner was standard operating procedure. My dad, mom, brother, and I circled nightly around our massive oak table, aged with the story of our family life.
On one end, the table sported a stripe of neon pink nail polish from one of my self-administered manicures.
On another, it boasted a chip, likely from a rowdy game of Spoons or some dropped silverware that occurs through the process of raising two children to adulthood.
But flaws and all, it always seemed to have the space to squeeze everyone on the guest list around it. We gathered as ourselves, with extended family, or with friends to celebrate birthdays and Christmases, pass lazy summer days and endure damp winter evenings.
Assembling at the table, regularly, with groups large and small, familiar or new, is a story I want to belong to my own children as well. A simple, satisfying meal possess power to unwind tongues and relax rigidity into the softness of community, to share truth – and life.
In weaving this into my own family narrative, I have had to conquer both my mental image of that lovely, spacious oak table and my own desire for a flawless, open kitchen and dining area, designed and displayed well, and offering endless space and room for all.
Here in our beloved city, this kind of space is a luxury – one we don’t have. Our tiny bungalow is perfect for our immediate family life, but when we open our doors to friends and family, there is no setting in a table leaf; we don’t have the extra four, matching chairs to our dining set to circle up, either. We simply don’t have the space.
At our house, we scoot the table to the center of the combined living and dining room, pull in the patio chairs for extra seating, offer up the bar stools, and invite people to sit on the couch or sprawl on the floor. Sometimes, I have to determinedly combat my mental image of what life around my table should be. My table is supposed to be fresh flowers, farm table, colors and tastes and fiesta ware. And instead it’s a hodgepodge. It’s patio chairs and milk-stained dining room chairs and bar stools and couch cushions and pillow seats, sometimes in shifts.
It’s never the perfect Pinterest moment.
Glasses have shattered and accidents have happened at our meals, both big and small.
But I don’t want to miss an opportunity to gather my people – and my people’s people – around my table because I am being silly about the assortment of chairs.
That’s the thing about hospitality: you offer what you have. If you wait until you have the perfect everything, you’ll never open your doors.
When you gather around the proverbial table in the Roberts’ house, the seating might look interesting. I hope the conversation will be equally so. Nothing quite takes the formality out of dinner with a hodgepodge of people quite like instructing dinner guests, “This is buffet style! Serve yourself, and find a place to sit – or stand.”
When I recall the times we pulled people in like this, I remember all the laughing. I recall the sprawled out people and the way the kids milled around, up and down, around the melee. People make themselves at home, stay longer than they mean to, and feel comfortable digging in the fridge. What I don’t remember is if the table looked pristine, or if my food presentation was on point.
Someday, I may just get that picture-perfect dining scenario. I may not. It doesn’t really matter, because the point is to invite people to pull up a chair and join our family – even it means we need to pull in the patio chairs.