My whisk scraped the bottom of the saucepan as I beat the turkey juice into a thick cream-colored gravy. The last piece of the perfect dinner. “You know you don’t have to work so hard, babe,” my husband said as he carried dishes to our table. “My brother-in-law brought the store-bought gravy, plus you don’t even like gravy.”
“I know,” I said, continuing to whip it into perfection. Finishing the gravy, I carried it into the dining room. My daughter was playing with her cousins. Some of the adults busied themselves in the kitchen, while others sat on the couch. Our house was full. Laughter, talking, and joy warmed our home.
I turned my attention back to the table, checking each of the sixteen place settings and the assortment of food. I was making sure that the details were all just right. My mom showed me how the details that invited everyone to enjoy being at the table.
My mom taught me about the intentional table.
My sisters and I sat on the floor playing spoons not far from the kitchen where my mom baked, roasted, and sauteed for the meal we were anxiously awaiting. My father had gone to the army base earlier that morning and picked up three men to join us for Christmas dinner. The formalities of yes sir and no ma’am quickly dissolved, as the men began to feel more at home. My dad helped my mother in the kitchen, while my sisters and I invited our guests to join us in spoons.
As we played my sisters and I laughed so hard that we could barely breathe. Two of the soldiers were picking on their friend, making sure he could never grab a spoon.
Our mom interrupted the game, to ask my sisters and me to help her finish setting the table. We helped pour the drinks as my mother checked the place settings and the food. She had thought through each detail. Even though we lived in Saudi Arabia, our Christmas dinners felt like a Hallmark Movie. My parents extended our home to others during the holidays. Every Christmas my mom invited a stranger who didn’t have anywhere else to go to join us for dinner. Most of the time it was members of the military, once it was a hot air balloon racing team.
The three army men that played spoons with us for hours were the first guests I remember joining us. At the end of the dinner, long after my mom had passed around her sugar cookies, we stayed at the table talking. I listened as the men shared funny stories of being in the army and about how hard it was to be stationed so far from home. I remember one of them saying that that Christmas day was the first time he felt like he was home since being on tour.
My mom kept crafted the table intentionally so that family and new friends would all want to linger long after we had stopped shoveling food into our mouths.
The gift of an intentional table wasn’t just for others. We ate family meals together almost every night. During dinner my father would encourage us to talk about politics, religion, and anything else we wanted to share. The table my mom set allowed us to share freely. And even though we fought often, I distinctly remember that every dinner was a chance to be heard, to talk, and to listen. It’s where I learned both the art of arguing and the importance of discussion. Around our table, my mom and dad fostered our independence and encouraged us to think for ourselves, even when we disagreed with them.
The details my mom stressed over created a perfect home for everyone who came into our house. Her table allowed for people to linger, to talk, and to share so that we could all learn a little more about each other.
Now I’m recreating my mother’s table.
I counted the chairs at my table, double-checking napkins, cutlery, glasses, and flowers. I pulled out our wedding china and insisted Greg continue to add cardboard tables until my extended family, and a young man from Brazil who had no where else to go for the holiday could all sit together. I made more food than necessary and included the gravy and cranberry sauce that I wouldn’t add to my plate.
Everything was there on the table for others, so that everyone felt like this was their home, at least for a little while. Like my mother, I had stressed over each detail. They were for the family I love and for our new friend. So that he would stay and linger, so that we could get to know him, hear his stories, and learn just a little bit more about his life.