Kitchen table was HQ for family

Columnist Claudette Sandecki on the importance of dinnertime and family

“Time to eat, kids. Clear the table,” Mom would say as she tested the boiling potatoes for doneness.

The kitchen table was where we gathered between meals like families in front of TV.

The table served as an all purpose piece of furniture – our gaming table, craft area, Mom’s kitchen counter, laundry room, whatever activity called for a flat surface.

Ample for our family of five kids, the homemade table came from a farm auction where it had been well broken in.

Standing on 3”x3” wooden legs permanently affixed, it was topped with glued on heavy duty linoleum in a green and yellow geometric pattern, edges bevelled until comfortable to bare arms. It had been constructed to handle any job that came its way. A variety did.

On that table Mom kneaded 12 loaves of bread each week; rolled crust and assembled pies; filled canning jars with fruits, and veggies for pickles; sawed up a quarter of pork for freezing in a town ten miles away; rubbed Habacure on slabs of side pork to make bacon; cleaned a dozen or so chickens at a time over-ready for sale to town folk; and stacked whites from darks during the laundering process on wash day.

On ironing day the wide end of the ironing board – a padded plank tapered at one end to slide into dresses or skirts – rested on the table, while the tapered end rested on the back of a kitchen chair.

Ironing was my job, one I took pride in and enjoyed despite roasting my hand over a sad iron or, in later years, pushing along a gasoline-heated version.

As babies, Mom bathed us in a galvanized wash tub set on the end of the table closest to the warm wood stove.

Once supper dishes were washed and put away the table became a hub in the excellent light from a gasoline-fuelled mantle lamp suspended from the ceiling.

That’s because electricity wasn’t available in our home until I had graduated from high school.

We did our homework or worked at some craft. Played cards or checkers, board games, and eventually Monopoly. Mom would read Emmie Oddie in The Western Producer.

We kids made birthday and greeting cards, along with strings of popcorn and cranberries to decorate the Christmas tree.

Each December Mom baked gingerbread in the shape of horses which we kids cut  out with Grandma’s 3” ivory handled penknife from the rolled out dough following a butter paper pattern.

We iced the baked horses with white vanilla, then drew on bridle and saddle dipping toothpicks in food colouring. These horses were hung on the tree (often a poplar branch; a spruce was out of the question until my latest teens).

They gathered dust and “ripened” for the two weeks of holidays and when removed from the tree, tasted extra spicey, by then so crisp they had to be dipped in milk or coffee.

Mom wrapped gifts for relatives, and both she and Dad wrote annual letters to distant family or addressed store-bought Christmas cards at the table after we had gone to bed.

Because the gas lamp was the only decent light in the house, one winter Dad even repaired a horse harness at the kitchen table.

And I recall him assembling a set of rein spreaders made of red, white, and blue plastic rings.

Mom knew where we were at all times, we learned to play nicely together, and if Mom needed a hand setting the table or popping the baby into the highchair, she didn’t have to text us. We were right there.

Claudette Sandecki now runs her household from her own kitchen table in her Thornhill, B.C. home.

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