Is there anything more humiliating than being banished to the kids’ table when you’re a teenager?
Each Thanksgiving, as we gathered at my grandmother’s Hayden home, I hoped and prayed I’d at last made the cut and would be allowed to sit with the grown-ups. But when you’re the youngest in your family many things are beyond your reach – including the table with the linen cloth and good china.
Instead, I’d sit with my cousins, and stick olives on my fingers and listen to the adult laughter and lively conversation ringing from the big table. One year, as I tucked into the steaming mashed potatoes and gravy I loudly proclaimed, “Finally! A home-cooked meal!”
Unfortunately, my comment came during a rare lull in conversation. Laughter erupted. My grandmother beamed, my mother did not. Though I was just 6 at the time, I trace my prolonged tenure at the kids’ table to this incident.
I could be wrong, however. My grandfather strictly adhered to the adage that children should be seen and not heard. This didn’t sit well with me. I preferred to be heard – a lot.
After dinner, the men retired to the living room to watch football. The women cleaned up the kitchen and talked about interesting things. At least I think they discussed items of interest, but I had no way of knowing. Whenever I walked into the kitchen they’d stop talking and Grandma would mutter something about “little pitchers.” This mystified me. I never played baseball, and I didn’t think my ears were overly large.
We kids just sat miserably. The one toy at Grandma’s was a stuffed dog named Lady with a plastic nose and floppy ears. One dog. Eight cousins.
Sometimes I was allowed to pick out tunes on Grandma’s organ, if I kept the volume down. But even when my feet could finally reach the pedals, I still sat at the kids’ table.
Things perked up when the board games came out. Grandpa was a fiend for Aggravation, and we kids had our own board. We also played Sorry and Uno for hours.
At the final Thanksgiving meal I ate at my grandparents’ house, I finally made it to the big table. They even let my husband join me.
Shortly after that, my grandfather passed away and Grandma moved to a retirement home. My parents assumed Thanksgiving duties, and my children sat at the kids’ table. One by one, they grew tall enough to reach it without sitting on phone books. They learned to wield utensils and drink from cups without spouted lids.
All too soon, my father passed away. And now, if none of my siblings comes to town, I am the Thanksgiving hostess. I’ve permanently secured my seat at the adult table – mainly because we bought a really big one, thus eliminating the need for a kids’ table.
Today my mom and my four sons will gather. No one needs a booster seat, but there will be olives on fingers. I can’t help it. Old habits die hard.
As I pulled the good dishes from the cupboard I found myself longing for absent faces: my grandparents, father, and cousins. And it still shocks me when my lips brush the stubble-strewn cheeks of my oldest sons. My babies aren’t babies anymore.
A seat at the grown-up table comes with a price.
Even so, as I dig out the serving platters and polish the silver, I’m filled with gratitude. Though I miss those I’ve lost, I cherish those I still have. Many are not so fortunate.
The faces around the table may change, but the spirit of Thanksgiving remains.