A few years ago, my mother gave me one of my most prized possessions.
It wasn’t a huge flat screen television or the latest iPhone. She gave me my grandparents’ kitchen table.
It has a worn quartered ash top; two insertable leaves; thick scrolling legs. They had a dining room table that seemed much more elegant and contemporary, but it was only used for the overflow of family that was there on Christmas night. Otherwise, it sat in a separate room like a dainty showroom piece from the 70s.
The kitchen table is priceless in comparison. My grandmother held court at the kitchen table first and foremost. My grandfather may have ruled the business of the farm, but my grandmother ruled over the dominion of any activity involving her kitchen.
Just as everyone can remember where they were during a significant historical event, the history of myself begins at this table.
I first experienced fried chicken, home grown tomatoes and my first soft drink at my grandparents’ kitchen table. My first taste of chicken noodle soup to quell a cold and the comfort I experienced afterwards happened at that table. Before I was old enough to work in the field, I watched my grandmother work with ease the intricacies of making breads, pies and enough food three times a day not just for the family but everyone working on the farm on any particular day. It was her affection and delight for food that would inspire to me to be a chef for 15 years. My discretion for ingredients came from my grandmother’s love for fresh food grown on the farm. Everything grown, cultivated, or that could be pickled we canned in the kitchen and spread it out on the kitchen table — not to mention the cleaning of jars beforehand.
Despite any other room in the house, everyone from company to cousin ended up at the kitchen table.
The kitchen table was also my first university. I spent years attentively listening to stories at the table. Just like countless hours of attending lectures, I attended classes revealed in anecdote. Everything from old timers and their hyperbolic fishing stories to the reasons why Reagan was going to pay farmers in the 80s not to produce any more milk. I was breaking green beans at the table when Elvis died.
My grandmother would wink at me sometimes while she held court at the kitchen table. It was her sign to me that later she would reveal the lesson I could learn from a visitor’s folly. The kitchen table, like the times my grandfather and I spent alone in the fields, was where he would comfortably share his philosophy with me. I hope to continue some type of tradition at my grandparents’ table. The farm and most of the relatives are gone now. But just as the table’s worn finish and scratches remember our countless Sunday dinners, I will always remember the table talk.