I do some of my best writing in the dining room. It doesn’t matter if the table is round, square or flat. As I contemplate words, phrases and sentences, in the back of my mind I remember meals of grilled salmon, slender stalks of green asparagus, risotto and late night conversations over chili, chips and beer. With plenty of space to spread out papers, the room for entertaining guests and gathering family together for me is the heart of the home.
The style these days, however, is to eat dinner in the kitchen around a granite island or peninsula, making clean up and serving easy. This scene is enacted in trendy TV shows and movies, vibrantly photographed in glossy home magazines. The chef can be watched as they prepare the meal. No fancy place settings or linen needed. And if one has a craving for intimate dining complete with candlelight and flowers, there are all those restaurants. No food shopping and no dishes.
So much for the family dinner when we’d sit around the table and quiz our children on their day in school. My two sons and daughter didn’t always want to “talk” so we’d make it a little more interesting with the introduction of a new vocabulary word or the discussion of a famous person from history. I made sure my kids knew about Amelia Earhart and Helen Keller, two famous women who evidently are not as well-known as they were when I was growing up. And I learned the latest slang, such as “fat” meant “cool” and “emo” means drama queen and “friends with benefits” means just what it sounds like.
The dining room table, as the children grew up and eventually left home, was the place we’d sign and fold all the letters that were going to be bulk mailed to publicize my husband’s expanding insurance agency. It was the perfect spot for addressing the holiday cards and helping daughter Alex lay out a science project presentation.
I was following in the footsteps of my parents, who also used the family dining room as a multi-purpose room. Our table, Danish Modern and capable of seating twelve people when fully extended, was my mother’s favorite piece of furniture. My father artist Herman Maril would sit at that table paying bills, canceled statements and receipts organized in stacks bound with rubber bands. I remember eating breakfast at that table as a child, preferring the dining room to the kitchen, because I could gaze out the larger windows and look at my father’s paintings on the walls. Inside a cabinet against the wall was a television, but we never turned it on during meal time, unlike today when so many Americans who eat in front a digital screen.
In today’s homes, whether you live in a house or an apartment, the room that houses the large flat screen T.V. has become the center hub for activity. As society focuses more on digital entertainment and people are either looking down at their phones or looking up at a screen, dining rooms are being deleted.
So let’s go back and visit the formal dining room, where families and friends gather to share a meal and tell jokes and stories. It could be considered a luxury room, a space in the home that is not entirely necessary, but it is a room that has many positive attributes. Setting a meal on a plate and carrying it into a designated room for eating, means you are going to mindfully pay attention to your food. A dining room encourages you to sit down and savor your meal.
Often we eat standing up. We are rushing to go somewhere, do something, and we eat “on the run.” The extreme act of gulping down a quick meal in the kitchen is to eat over the sink, so as not to shed crumbs. What’s it all for? Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and slow down.
I look forward to continuing to enjoy a dining room. Perhaps this evening I will prepare Shrimp Fra Diavolo served on delicate porcelain plates. But it is still morning and I’m thinking about words, phrases and sentences. I look out the window, studying the rough texture of the tree bark, wondering when the first buds will appear. Here in this moment, I remind myself to take time to appreciate all the important people in my life, make time to talk and listen. The dining room and what it represents is part of that vision. Long live the dining room.