The Gathering Place

My favourite “watering hole” or gathering place is a seat at the table of one my cherished friends or amidst members of my family.  To share a meal together, encircled by the dear faces of people we love, is to strengthen the bonds that tether us and make us a “team”, enabling us to unite in pursuit of common goals.  The conversations, stories and news that are shared around the table teach us about the things that make us more alike than different, and help us to see the ways in which our differences can enlighten us and make us better.  The nourishment of savouring delicious food prepared with love by a loved one is more than food for the body; it replenishes the soul and enriches the mind.

A gathering of friends to celebrate a special birthday around my dining room table. Photo by Suzanne Mathieson-Bates, October 2013.

My dining room table, covered by the tablecloth in this picture, has hosted at least a century of such gatherings.  It has a long and personal history with my family.  My husband’s grandfather, John Anderson, travelled to Canada from Scotland in 1924, when he was 20 years old.  He took a job working on a farm in Rocanville, Saskatchewan, and eventually owned a farm of his own.  He met and married Mae Donaldson, and during the early 1930’s, they migrated to the West Kootenay region, in the southeast area of the Province of British Columbia, where he found work at the Cominco smelter in the city of Trail.  They settled in Rossland, BC, where they purchased a house.  They bought the table that now sits in my dining room, second-hand from its previous owner, along with the house.  It was listed on the deed to the property.  The table travelled with the Anderson family when they moved to a 10-acre parcel of land in nearby Fruitvale, BC.

The end view of my dining room table, which is approximately 100 or more years old. Photo by Rebecca Anderson.

The table once had wooden wheels, encased in metal rims and attached to the foot of each leg, which have since been removed as the wood crumbled away and the metal rims became dented and a hazard to our flooring.  The table has four leaves that when inserted, extend the table’s size to seat up to 12 people.  At some unknown point in its past, it was painted with a thick coat of black lacquer that remained for decades.

The side view of my antique dining table, which is at least 100 years old. Photo by Rebecca Anderson.

When I became engaged to Robert Anderson, we were both 19 years old and owned nothing with which to make our first home.  His grandfather, John Anderson, had passed away about two years before, and the table had been stored in my in-laws’ basement.  We needed a table for our future home together, so Robert asked and was granted permission to take it.  Robert stripped off the heavy black paint and refinished the table with a clear varnish, so that its natural wood was featured.  I was delighted to receive this table upon our marriage.  To me, it is an item of rare beauty, one of my most treasured pieces of furniture, not just because of the lovely shape of the legs and the detailed scrollwork that adorns the end panels, but because it is a repository of family history that prompted the telling of cherished memories as we gathered around it for many family dinners.

A view of the top of my antique dining room table, minus its four leaves. Photo by Rebecca Anderson

John and Mae Anderson raised four children around this table: Vincent, Bernice, John, and Kenneth. Like all furniture that dwells among children, it survived the rough-and-tumble activity of daily life, from which it still bears some scars.  The family ate most of their meals at another table that was more conveniently located in the kitchen, which freed up this table for other household purposes.  The boys, which included my father-in-law (John, who was affectionately known as “Jackie”, I suspect to distinguish him from his father of the same name), recall using it as a ping-pong table, attaching a removable net with clamps.  Ken, the youngest of the children, remembers that Vince was the most accomplished at ping pong.  Ken tells me that this table was where the family hosted special meals for holidays or birthdays, gatherings where the family was joined by guests.  My husband, Robert, recalls a special gathering or two as a child, when out-of-town relatives were visiting.  Ken also recalls the table as the place where the children gathered after school to complete their homework, a memory that Jackie had also shared with my own children during family dinners, as he fondly traced with his finger the place where his initials still remain to this day:  “J.A.” etched in black ink that leached through the paper and stained the wood permanently as he finished a drafting assignment.  This generally led to reminiscing about his work as a journeyman electrician, following for a time in his father’s and older brother Vincent’s footsteps to work for awhile on “The Hill” (a.k.a. Cominco), and his career transition to working as an apprenticeship counsellor for the provincial government’s Ministry of Labour.  Robert has his own stories to share of his experiences for the short time that he also worked at the zinc smelter at Cominco, then moving on to complete his apprenticeship and earn his papers as a journeyman baker.

Can you spot the initials, “J.A.” etched in black ink into the wood of my antique dining table, an accident that has become a treasured memento of my father-in-law’s childhood as it revolved around this table? Photo by Rebecca Anderson.

Through the years, my family have added to the Anderson family record, created our own personal history while seated around this table.  This table bears witness to the struggles of an ordinary family, to the losses and victories that we revisit in stories told over meals shared together.  I love this table because now that our children are grown, it recalls their passage through childhood to adult independence.  It holds the stories of my husband’s and my own growth, the journey that has transformed us from starry-eyed newlyweds to parents, the trajectories of our careers and personal lessons that ushered us into the maturity of the middle years.  Now it plays a central role as we gather around it to plan together our future that lays ahead.  My friends and family meet around our tables to share the experiences that still have so much to teach us, the failures that we have learned to value as much as the successes.  Our tables are where we open up to one another, to talk about our glimpses into what aging and “slowing down” might require, and to dream of the life that our hard-working histories may have earned for us.

This table thrums to me, laying out meals seasoned with memories, flavoured with the wisdom of life’s lessons learned well, spreading before me the recipes we share for how to create a sweet and savoury future.  Come. Gather round.  Share together this beautiful life.

6 comments

  1. Your entry made me think of my favourite poem by Mvskoke poet, Joy Harjo:

    Perhaps the World Ends Here
    BY JOY HARJO

    The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

    The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

    We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

    It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

    At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

    Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

    This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

    Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

    We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

    At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

    Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

    Source: “Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., http://www.wwnorton.com.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, that is fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I read this as Rob and I were revisiting a photo of Jedidiah learning to stand at eight months, clinging to the table’s legs as he pulled himself up to teeter on his baby legs. It is the perfect poem to go with this article.

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  2. I love this! Our farm table, now owned by another family, was punctured slightly with the tines of one daughter’s forks as she played with a lace tablecloth. I guess she was trying to fit each tine in a separate part of the lace! A desk chair has teeth marks of another daughter, who decided it was a great place to relieve her gums when teething.

    My Grandma Ramming’s maiden name was St. Onge, born in Barry, Ontario. I know there’s a Donaldson on that side of the family, from Canada.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Who knows, we might have distant ancestral connections! The Donaldson side of the family originally resided in Ontario, and moved across the border as they worked for the railway, then moved back again. Some of the Donaldsons took up permanent residency in the US. Makes me wonder 🙂

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