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The Gathering Place

Text by: Jacque Crosswell Watene
Cover Photography by: Jessica Ceason Photography
Photography by: Roger Ruth Photography

Today has been an incredibly busy one, as far as days go. My daughter had to be dropped off at a fundraiser event that began at 9:00 in the morning. My twelve-year-old son had baseball registration, which I attended with my four-year-old and almost-two-year-old sons in tow. Then it was time to pick my daughter up, along with about fifteen complete dinners she made with her church youth group, to deliver to the various families who participated in the fundraiser. After that, a phone call from my dear sister-in-law, who just gave birth to a new son and needed a respite from her own four-year-old, summoned me to help her by taking my nephew for a play day at my home.
It has been a very full day thus far, and it is only 2:30 in the afternoon. As of now, I am writing this article in the midst of a bit of pre-school chaos, attempting to finish as much of it as possible before my toddler wakes from his nap. And yet, in spite of all the madness raining down around me, I am happy. I find myself smiling with certainty that things will calm down measurably this evening as my family gathers around the dining table to enjoy one another’s company amid good food and delicious drinks. There, I am confident we will savor each other’s companionship, as well as a wholesome dinner (the same chicken enchiladas from my daughter’s fundraiser—thank heavens I didn’t have to make dinner tonight of all nights). As we speak of the events of the day and what we are looking forward to tomorrow, I will frequently remind them, one by one, of their manners. “Eli, please don’t speak with your mouth full. Ariel, dab the corners of your mouth with your napkin, not your hand. Isaacson, do not pick up your food with your hands—use a fork.” And of course, in my home, no family meal would be complete without me having to remind my youngest as he begins to bang and hammer away at the table with his dinner utensils, “Rowan, no drums at the table! Mommy already said, ‘No-no,’” at various intervals.
We usually have breakfast and lunch in the kitchen at the breakfast nook. At this table, we dine very casually. In fact, I don’t think our eating habits here can rightfully be called “dining.” Rather, we “eat” at this table, drinking from plastic cups and eating from informal ceramic plates and bowls (I haven’t been able to bring myself to use paper goods for fear my grandmother would roll-over in her grave if she knew), and most of the time we forget to bless the food.
But the dinner hour is a different story altogether. It is understood amongst my children and husband that only crystal, glass, chinaware, and silver belong at our dining room table. I take great pride in knowing that I personally restored this heirloom table that once belonged to my grandfather…stripping, sanding, and staining it until it shone with a gleaming, polished mahogany finish. This heirloom is our “Gathering Place,” and it is my cherished desire that our dinners together befit the poignant memories I have of gathering around this very table as a young girl with my own siblings, parents, and grandfather.

Traditionally, January is the month when we welcome new change and strive to reach new goals. Amid our New Year’s resolutions, why not resolve to make your own dining table your family’s “Gathering Place?” Tonight, if it is possible, plan and prepare a dinner that will warm your household, both body and soul. If you have over-scheduled yourself, much the way I did today, plan for a special meal sometime this week. Bring out the crystal goblets you never use because they are “too fancy” for everyday. Unpack the fine china you keep in your hutch or cupboards because you are too afraid “something will break” if you use it, and as you do, teach your children how to handle these objects with care. Tell them where or who you received each piece from, and how it is a long standing tradition that special dinnerware be passed down from generation to generation. Allow your children to set the table with you, guiding them as to which side of the plate the fork belongs, and where the napkin should lie. And if all you have to dine on is paper and plastic, so be it. The important part is being together. As you gather your dear ones around your table, savor the moment. Relish in the delight of having one more evening, one more meal with those you love. Make your dining table a “Gathering Place,” where you and your family can find true friendship in one another, and bask in the love you have created by letting your family know they are important to you.