There was no such thing as great-rooms and open space, when I was a little girl. Every room was distinct. You might think the dining room was for dining, but that was just the beginning. Everything went on in the dining room at my house. The dining room led everywhere, and everyone ended up there. The dining room had four doors: one to the back room, one to the frunchroom, one to the stairway, and one to the kitchen. The dining room was for bringing together and sending out. The dining room was for fortifying and uniting.
One door led to the back door. That’s where I wrote my name in blue crayola. It took me so long time learn how to write my name. Mom taught me the right way so all my Valentines would come out right, I knew better, but there was no wallpaper or pretty colored paint or anything back there by the door; just a white door with a black dead-bolt. The wall was empty except for a bunch of grimy finger marks from kids jumping up high enough to flip the back porch light on and off. My name looked neat-o up there with all the letters turned around right and marching proper. It seemed like once I finally figured out how to write, I couldn’t stop.
Anyways, the door to the back room for friends: friends who pressed their foreheads up against the screen door in the summertime and yelled for us kids to come outside; and ladies who came over for tea and stayed forever and a day, just sitting at the table and talking about everything under the sun, never moving, until Mom about got the jimmy-leg ’cause she never liked sitting still for too long.
The people who came to the back door were the people we wanted to see. Other people came to the front door. Only Mom or Dad answered the front door ’cause strangers came there, and salesmen, which was worse than a stranger, except the World Book Encyclopedia salesman who almost counted as a friend. Come to think of it, he I’m pretty sure he came to back door.
One door led to the frunchroom. I told you all about that room before, so I won’t bore you again, except to say we stayed in the frunchroom when Mom waxed the linoleum in the dining room. We stayed in there until Mom the linoleum dried and Mom spread the wax down, Bonita and Deanna and Vickie and Loren and me ran around in our stocking feet until the whole floor was slick and shiny and we smelled like Johnson floor wax.
The telephone was in the dining room, right by the doorway to the frunchroom and at the stairway door. Everybody could hear anybody on the phone, until Deanna got the bright idea to stretch the cord over behind the stairway door. That way she had some privacy. Well, kinda; ’cause anybody walking by could stop a listen, or if I was upstairs, I could hear loud as day. Course what Deanna had to say, was mostly about clothes and who said what, which was kinda boring, but I kept my ears open in case something interesting came up. Eavesdropping is impolite, so if I heard someone on the party line, I had to hang up right away; I never heard any rules about listening when I was in the same room as the talker. That’s probably wrong too.
The last doorway led to the kitchen, the next-to-most-important room. That room had lots of activity too, but mostly work and lots of chaos and of course, super-good smells except for potato pancake, which made me want to throw up, and liver which I hated more than anything, especially the smell. Everyone had something to do in the kitchen. I’ll tell you more about that room another day. Sometimes catastrophes and mishaps happened in there; especially for me.
The dining room had long windows, with those lace curtains that had to be washed and starched and stretched every spring. The rest of the time, they just hung there looking pretty. Of course when they came down, windows had to be cleaned, and sometimes, with all that extra light, Mom saw that the wallpaper was dingy, and she got right to work getting new wallpaper hung up. The room got all filled up with bright glue-smelling flowers, ’cause everybody’s dining room had flowered wallpaper.
Of course we had a huge wood table with leaves always in, ’cause it was a dining room, and supper was always in there. My cousin Linda got chased around that table by Aunt Lucille. She was screeching, and Linda was crying and doubling back so she wouldn’t get caught. She must have been bad for all that trouble. Maybe she wrote on the wall. I was too little to know the ‘whys,’ but I sure remember the chasing part.
The table was for way, way more than eating. That’s where I did my homework and read books, and did some of my 4-H projects. That’s where puzzles and board games got played by us kids or pinochle or Yahtzee by Mom and Dad and all the aunts and uncles, with me hiding under the table so I could listen to all the laughing and kidding around, and my Dad shouting out “scratch your Yahtzee” and laughing his head off like it was the funniest thing in the whole wide world, and Mom saying, “Dee-ean!” in her fake-mad way. That’s where I got in trouble once, too, when Mom told me to put pickles on the table and I said, “Who’s having a baby,” just for a joke.
Frankie who was on the way, but nobody told me ’cause nobody was supposed to know, and after I made that joke, Mom got her for-sure-angry voice on and said, “I didn’t want anyone to know yet.” and like a dope I said, “Know what?” ’cause I was just being a smart-aleck about the stork and pickles on account of that Vlasic advertisement. Anyways the beans got spilled that day and everyone got excited. Mom had a hard time staying mad for very long, and I knew by the time everybody went home, she’d forget all about my blabbermouth. I just made a joke that happened to be true. I was pretty sure that came under doing something wrong, without knowing it was wrong, which didn’t even count as a sin. You have to know it’s wrong and do it anyways, to make it count.
When mealtime came the table became the supper table. Nobody called it anything for breakfast or lunch, and nobody thought that was the least bit odd. We never even thought about it.. The supper table was where all the talking of the day got done. Just the smell of food got my mouth all slippery inside, and words just came sliding right out.
The “Bless Us O Lord, ” prayer was the same as ready-set-go, before a meal. Then all the food got passed and tongues wagged. Everybody talked at the table, except maybe Mom. Mom was the best darned listener I ever knew. Once I got all talked out, I said an after meal blessing, which kinda like the period at the end, to let God know I finished eating and I was still thankful.
It’s not near as busy or noisy in my dining room, as it was when I was growing up. Still, it’s the center of our home: where family and friends come together to laugh and play; where food adds flavor to fine conversations. Above all, I am still thankful for all the nourishment I continue to get before, during, and after every meal. For my body, but just as important for my mind and soul.