My parents’ dinner table has grown large out of necessity. Even the not un-large table we used when I was a boy has been replaced and is now only the kitchen table. The current model can seat four people comfortably on the sides, and, if need be, two on the ends, which is the configuration for Tuesday and Saturday nights. On most occasions, anywhere from a third to half of the people around the table are “adopted” family, people who are staying at the Place or drop in out of habit. When everyone is home, which is about once every two years, we mash four people on the ends as well as the sides, and others either stand by the walls or sit in extra odd chairs that spill into the living room.
Our table at Swaledale is a modest satellite of this prodigious commons. This last summer we were able to replace the original thrift-store model with a small mahogany piece, purchased at a discount from a kind neighbor. While my parents’ table can magically sustain as many simultaneous conversations as there are pairs, trios and quartets of people gathered around, ours can sustain only one. But it has the advantage of quiet — you never need to ‘steel yourself’ for a dinner at Swaledale, which is sometimes necessary at the Place. For the few of us who alternate between the two, each seems to give a lively balance to the other.
But the interesting thing is that, to date, both tables have only ever grown in size, with the addition of spouses and grandchildren. I was reminded of this line from A Christmas Carol:
“‘But however and whenever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget poor tiny Tim — shall we — or this first parting that there was among us?’”
Substitute any of our names for Tim’s, and the line becomes a very sobering one, and yet as sure as prophecy. We’ve never yet had that kind of parting within our immediate families. It seems impossible when you think about it, almost a statistic miracle. And yet the longer the winning streak goes on, the easier it is to take it for granted. That “first parting” is in the cards for us at some point, and the season of the large tables will end before it begins again. These days, right now, are the “good old days.” Let us be thankful for this time while we have it.