A Crowded Table

Our dining room table will seat 8 comfortably, 10 in a stretch, and we have squeezed 12 in on at least two occasions.  It’s not a pretty table – it’s that honey oak popular in the eighties – but one day, I will build a better one. This table’s primary selling point when we bought it was that it was cheap and big. We scrounged yard sales for extra chairs, to expand the capacity from the six that came with it when we bought it. These chairs sit empty these days.

When we bought the house, it was suggested that we knock out a portion of the wall between the kitchen and dining room to make a more open floor plan – but we are the weirdo’s who don’t like open floor plans. Having a kitchen open to the table means looking at dirty dishes when you are eating supper with people you love. So we have a large dining room, with a large table, between my office and the kitchen, which holds our huge table, empty chairs, and some of our favorite artwork from friends.

We have a guest room, with a queen sized memory foam mattress that has been slept on 3 times in 22 months, a record all-time low.

This house, which we love, was purchased based on some assumptions: That we would entertain regularly, that we would routinely have guests in from out of town, that cooking for other people would be a thing I do regularly, that hospitality was our primary spiritual practice. None of those things are happening, and haven’t been done with any normalcy in almost two years and that shows no sign of changing soon.

This virus, and our national lackluster response to it, has stolen so much from me – hell, from all of us. If I were to make a list of things we used to do often, but no longer do, it would be a lengthy list. But other than eating with people, the thing I think I miss most is the lingering. When I have met folks face to face, it is a rush to be done, to get out of the place, to be done and get back to safety. I miss just being in the part of town where a store was, and deciding to pop in and just see what they had new. Of having a free Saturday morning, so you decide to hit up some antique malls just to see what was out there. It’s been so long since we just “killed time.”

My favorite part of any meal with other folks is the lingering – when the meal is over, the dishes are empty in front of you, and yet the conversation continues, ebbing and flowing. Perhaps there is a cup of coffee in front of you, and occasionally someone will munch on a roll or decide in favor of another piece of pie, but mostly you are just relishing each other’s company, and it all feels so right and comfortable and safe, and no one dares end it by getting up.

I miss that. I miss the joy of cooking things that would make people happy, of getting to share my gifts and the stories behind them with people who sat at my table, in my house, and telling them the stories of why we eat this dish this way, of who painted that picture on the wall, of why that drawing is important to us. I miss hosting a crowded table.

One day, it will be like that again. One day, I will cook stockpots full of food again, one day we will have overnight guests regularly again, one day, we will have crowded tables once more, and for me, when that happens, the world will feel more right, more just, more hopeful than it does right now.

Take care of yourselves, and your families. Get vaccinated if you are not, and get boosted if you can. We need to get to the other side of this – I am so looking forward to regularly hosting a crowded table once more.