Sunday, October 24, 2010
In the 70's, my parents had given my grandparents an over-sized book of all of Rockwell's Post covers for Christmas which they kept on an early 19th century American mahogany drop-leaf table (salvaged and brought back to life by my grandmother- with the help of a furniture re-finisher!). This table and book occupied a key place in their living room. Every holiday, they would open it up to an appropriate page to reflect the day. This was the Thanksgiving page. Growing up, I only had one set of grandparents. We never had to run to another dinner on the major holidays like so many families have to do today. I also feel fortunate that they moved out to California just after I was born and lived within an easy drive, so we spent a lot of time with them.
Freedom from want... it seems so simple, yet almost unattainable today. It seems like we all want so much- we can never be satisfied. We are almost born pre-programed to desire stuff, that we can never just "be". There is always a new project or purchase around the corner and then we can have people over or perhaps feel relaxed being in our home. Contrast today with when my parents grew up, first living through the Depression and then the War- it's hard to imagine. But I heard the stories they and my grandparents told and retold during these family dinners.
Both of my parents were more fortunate than others during the Depression. The grandfather that I knew was a dentist having worked hard to get himself from the wrong side of the tracks as a kid to the right side as an adult. He often told stories about the creative ways some of his patients paid their dental bills. Butchers paid with meat, an artist patient, Mathias Alten, paid with his oil paintings. It was the first I heard of adults doing what my friends and I always did, barter.
But the War was different. That affected everyone. Everything was rationed and everyone did their part in saving and conserving because it was the right thing to do. 'Want' and 'need' were well defined then. I heard those stories and more at every gathering, and grew to look forward to the retelling and sharing of how things were. I also learned my family's history and grew to love the treasures in my grandparents' home that told this history.
That's what meals around the table can do- Sundays, holidays, or otherwise. It can pass down a family's story and hopefully instill a sense of belonging and purpose. I can't say this will give families freedom from want, but it's so important for families to realize they have a history- a story to tell. It's not always a happy tale, but a family's history can give context and can help members clarify what really is important.
The table upon which the Rockwell book was kept, I found out early on, was my grandparents' breakfast table back home in Michigan all the while my dad grew up. I now have the table in my entry way. In my dining room is one of my grandparents' Mathias Alten paintings. And the stories live on.