Thanksgiving. Christmas. Easter.
On the big holidays, my grandparents’ house was full of people. Aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives from Mexico or Piru, random comadres and compadres from who knew where. They filled the house. Kids ran all over the place and as the smells of a holiday feast got stronger and stronger, the children’s tables were set up.
For us, it was card tables; those remnants from the 1950s when people would have card games and vist. Kind of like an antiquated version of a Facebook Mafia game. The dusty card tables would be pulled from some corner in the basement, the folded metal legs would come out, someone would wipe it down and bam, there’d be a kid’s table. The card tables were set up around the house with little chairs also pulled up from the cold basement, another remnant from the Cold War era when everyone built bomb shelters in their homes. I loved that basement.
At the children’s tables, places would be set. Napkins laid out, the right silverware lined up neatly. We didn’t get to use the good china or the pretty, amber bubbled glass stemware. We got the brightly colored metal glasses or plastic. Our table had a cloth laid, but it was no where near as fancy as the hand tatted lace one or the hand-embroidered one that had taken my grandmother over a year to make, her stitches so fine that not a knot could you see. Even covered with the protective clear cloth made of plastic that went over it, those beautiful tablecloths did not belong on the children’s table. We got linen, white and snowy; freshly laundered and thick enough to absorb our messes. We felt quite grand though, even at the kid’s table and much in the spirit of the holiday.
The beautiful food made it to the grown-up table, where the adults got to sit. On that beautiful table, in pride of place would be the turkey or ham, beautiful garnished. Thanksgiving was turkey, Easter and Christmas was ham. Surrounding the gorgeous meat were all the beautiful dishes filled with wonders. Cut glass bowls of beautiful salads, jello molds, huge bowls of shiny, still wrapped baked potatoes, another bowl of creamy mashed ones, casserole dishes of yams topped with marshmallows, stuffing, and on and on. It was a beautiful bounty. The pies and desserts were still in the kitchen.
At the children’s table, we got sliced and scooped versions of all the stunning food. Plates piled high with slices of white and dark meat, small bowls with the accompaniments. Our glasses were filled with punch by an adult and then we were left to be on our own. Our conversation mimicked the ones going on at the adult table, or so we thought. We thought ourselves to knowledgeable and conversant. Maybe we were. Sometimes, as children are wont to do, we eavesdropped on the bilingually chattering adults, hoping to catch a gem of a curse word or a hint of a scandal. The kind of thing that usually made for hushed tones and anxious looks to our table. We never really put it together though, but all the same, we felt that delicious shiver of knowing something was secret.
Eventually, we graduated to the grown-up table and took our places. We found it was much more fun at the kid’s table and no where near as glamorous. If we were grown up enough to sit there, then we’d been working in the kitchen and around the house all day non-stop. We sat there tired,worn and hungry but still hostess enough to hop up every time someone needed something.
I miss the children’s table of my youth. I never did that with my children. From the beginning they sat with the grownups. I wanted them near me and now I wonder if I did them a service or disservice by denying them the children’s table.