In all the world is there anything more dehumanizing than the ‘kids table’? That act of familial segregation matched in its totality only by the Lord Almighty’s separation of the tribes during the building the Babylon tower.
For those unfamiliar with this spirit crushing inequality I offer my own family to illuminate.
My mother’s side was very close. Close as in we routinely were in each other’s business. My mom and her sister were tighter than most siblings. Together they bore five children, within six years of age, three girls and two boys at the bookends. I was the oldest. We were unusually close cousins.
One of the great joys of my young life were the times we would unite at my maternal grandparent’s home for dinner. It should be understood that in southern vernacular, meal names differ slightly from our modern lexicon. ‘Breakfast’ has always been and will remain, until the second coming of Christ, breakfast. Wherever sewer and cable television are still modern marvels, ‘dinner’ is the equivalent of ‘lunch’. ‘Supper’ is any meal served after 5pm and not a moment sooner. Unless you were Mr. Paul Jones, an old neighbor whose dinner time was three in the afternoon because he habitually went to bed at 5:30pm so he could get up each morning at 3am. No one ever knew why.
Most of these dinners were held on Sunday afternoons following an hour-long pulpit lashing. I was Baptist (note the past tense). The matron of our family, or as I called her, ‘Nanny’, God love her, would rise at dawn and begin the preparations for feeding her small redneck village. Generally, a meal of this sort had two entrees, always of the fried variety plus forty-seven sides. This didn’t include the myriad of drink options anchored on tea, sweet of course, otherwise we would mutiny, and an orgasm inducing assortment of desserts.
By law, every dining room table in a southern Christian home is to be oval and expandable. Nanny’s table came with two leaves that increased its circumference enough to seat the democratic party of the Tennessee legislature, of which my grandfather, Gocky, was an adamant supporter. But regardless of having enough space for ever rabbit hunter in Dickson County, under no circumstance was there room for anyone under the age of sixteen.
Which brings us to the kids’ table.
The reason for this was simple. Our parents wanted to eat in peace, without our nagging about the boiled okra or their having to oversee that we eat the boiled okra in good Christian fashion. Meaning primarily, that I wasn’t eating like Kate, my grandfather’s prized black and tan hunting dog. Locking us in the basement or the barn would have rattled their Evangelical sensibilities. Praying for the health and prosperity of our family, while the children starved, might incite a Providential lightening strike. So keeping us at a reasonable distance yet close enough to command, ‘clean your plates’ while not actually having to see if we did clean them helped minimize the guilt.
I’m certain I can trace at least two-thirds of my psychological troubles, and perhaps several bodily ailments, back to this dining wasteland. The ‘kids’ table, if it fact it can be called a table, was physically debilitating. While the ‘adults’ had enough room to sit comfortably as if dining in the first class compartment of the Concord, the children, whom they professed unconditional love, were smashed together and hunched over, in homeless-like fashion, around a folding card table large enough for one paper plate.
While the adult table promoted equality owing to the impartiality of its shape, the kids’ table was a study in class warfare. Hours before each meal, we would strategize on who would get the ideal spot not compromised by the couch, stool, or television. In an attempt to distance us as far as the property line and DFACS would allow, the kids’ table was consigned to the living room.
And should the weather be cooperative we were forced to dine alfresco on the car patio, next to Nanny’s topaz blue 1972 Dodge Dart, boiling in our own sweat and assailed by flies lured to the fried chicken and squash and away from the scrumptious cow patties in the pasture across the driveway.
There was one bright spot in all this; we quickly pushed the lard through our veins, owing to the four-mile walk each way for second helpings.
This horror was most common during the holiday season. I believe our parents received vile satisfaction at having their children’s holiday excitement dampened by our realization the we wouldn’t be able to play with our toys until spring because the prison grade metal folding chairs that were part and parcel of the kids’ table put us in traction.
It’s because of this, I swore to never subject my future children to this same injustice. I promised that we would always eat together, on the floor, Indian style, if necessary, so as to spare them the same emotional and physical carnage. It’s a promise I have kept thus far, made easier because I don’t play ‘cards’ and have an unhealthy need to protect my carpet from gravy stains and fried chicken grease.
It’s said that perhaps the best a parent can do is give their children what they never had as children. If that’s true I’ve satisfied the requirement and should now be added to the Who’s Who of Parenting. Granted, they may suffer any number of other daddy wounds but I ‘m satisfied that should be in a counselor’s office depressed and full of self loathing, it won’t on account eating at the kids’ table.
So as the holiday season approaches, save the children, slide over and ditch the kids’ table.