Mother still pulls it out whenever there is company - like this past Easter - or on the rare occasions when she uses my grandmother's china. However, outside of the floral-handled gold-ware, our family dinners were usually eaten on blue speckled plates that she purchased at a local discount pottery store, or a farm scene set found on clearance at Hill's - in other words, nothing too fancy. But there were always matching place mats and napkins, and Mom was always generous in allowing me to set our table for family meals with whatever accouterments my little heart desired - even if that meant the occasional hamburger on Grandma's china.
As an adult, I grew out of the habit of setting the table for meals. After all, it was just the two of us. Dinner was typically a quick affair, thrown onto a plastic plate, eaten at the kitchen counter, taken downstairs to scarf while watching a movie, or tossed into a bag for tomorrow's lunch. We often laughed that our dining room was only used on the rare occasions that we entertained. And then, in the span of a month, our mindset was made over.
Although we have no children, I began reading French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, and our table started to look sad. The next night, I climbed up on a stool and pulled our lightly used place mats and cloth napkins (thoughtfully purchased for us as wedding gifts almost 14 years ago) down from their box on the top shelf. While Peter (who is the gourmet cook in our family) worked on the meal, I went about the task of "dressing" the table.
In the weeks that followed this change, my grandmother's china has stopped collecting dust in my hutch and has been put to work. I've assessed each plate, bowl, cup, and serving piece in my kitchen and cupboards, looking for items with meaning and discarding the ones that were purchased because they had a red clearance sticker on them. A good five nights out of seven, we can now be found sitting at our dining room table, savoring a "leisurely" meal of 30 minutes or more.
Which also means that if there happen to be any future kiddos setting the table in our home, they will be able to roll their eyes and say, "Mom, why can't we just have plain ol' silverware?" The circle is complete. Somewhere in Heaven, I'm pretty sure my grandmother is laughing.
What about you? Is dinner an event or a survival technique?
Any traditions carried over from childhood?