Gary Brown: Do you remember your first Christmas at the Big Table?
One of the most blatant Christmas myths — other than the Big One — is that it’s better to eat at the adult table.
Our family even called it the Big Table. We had the Big Table, where mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandparents all sat and tried to say grace in a thoughtful and sincere manner until Uncle Floyd amended the “Amen” part with “Over the lips, past the gums, look out stomach, here she comes.”
We also had the Little Table, sometimes called the Little People’s Table, which essentially was just a card table with folding chairs. It was the kind of table that probably would be unlawful to use on a holiday these days unless it was covered with warnings such as “CAUTION: Child may kick the bottom of this table and cause a glass of milk to spill” or “WARNING: This table may tip because one leg of it folds up all on its own and causes younger children to be blamed.” That sort of thing can happen. It wouldn’t ever be because a young boy kicked the leg or was playing with the leg brace with his hand, or, incredibly, doing both at the same time. I swear.
Life at the Little Table wasn’t particularly bad. Oh, sometimes you had to tap on your mother’s arm to let her know that Uncle DeWitt, who was childless, was forgetting to pass the side dishes down to the Little Table. And usually those sitting at the Little Table ate off the unmatched china, if the gathering was large. And there always was a little food chaos going on because nobody except an older sibling was near enough to call it “disgusting” when the least mannerly at the Little Table started to perform silly food tricks with his mouth, nose or ears.
But, there were advantages to sitting at the Little Table. You could feed vegetables to the dog without it being noticed by parents. The Little Table usually got served pie first to keep kids from continually asking when they’d get dessert. And sometimes a kid could sneak away without asking to be excused from the Little Table. If three or four out of five kids at the Little Table still were there, it generally was enough to satisfy anybody at the Big Table who bothered to count.
Still, there was something magical about the Big Table. It was a table a child looked up to, literally. A child aspired to sit at the Big Table, where conversation seemed far more important than what was being discussed by 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds who talked with their mouths full.
I remember one Christmas dinner when — above the giggling and the shouting at the Little Table — I heard my Aunt Jesse serve up the essential parts of her recipe for candied yams. Now, I didn’t even really like candied yams at the time. I was a mashed potato kid. But the fact that the people at the Big Table even got the chance to converse about recipes, instead of just spill food on the carpet, seemed somehow special to me.
So, it’s only natural that I can recall vividly the first year that I was allowed to sit at the Big Table. My mother, I remember, said, “Why don’t you sit up next to me?” I was awed by the opportunity.
My older brother already was up there at the Big Table; he had been for three years. Now I was joining him, and from his seat, kitty-corner across the table beside my dad, he initiated me into the loyal order of the Big Table.
He stuck two green beans between his upper lip and teeth to make himself look like a walrus, and I giggled enough that milk shot out of my nose.
The Big Table never was the same at our house.
The Repository of Canton, Ohio