The kitchen table is often the centerpiece of family dining. It often serves as the introductory site to chores for maturing children who reluctantly help set the table for dinner. The kitchen table can transform into a bustling café where half-awaken bodies scramble for the toaster and a strong cup from chirping coffee pots. Or, become a communion of gathered prayer over home cooked meals. But no matter what form the kitchen table takes, it has often been a standstill for some of life’s most poignant moments.
Growing up, the kitchen table held up more than plates full of my mother’s Spanish pork chops with rice, or my father’s famous scrambled eggs reserved solely for Christmas mornings. It was the factory for Valentine’s Day cards. A lodging for family meetings to debate the annual vacation destinations or, a place to hold quick card games of “war” to pass the hours on rainy days. Like many families, our valuable time was scarce and, over the years, the kitchen table was silently adopted as a space reserved for moments that often proved to be more filling than the best meal.
A tradition, begun in the elementary days of my youth started at this reserved space with my father. Every father regards his daughter as his little princess; protecting her from the evils of the world, standing in as her knight in shining armor until someone he deems worthy comes along. He teaches her life lessons of respect, pride, and chivalry, as she blossoms from young princess to confident queen. These values were instilled in the form of several one on one games of chess at the kitchen table.
From a young age, he took a game that had more than face value significance and turned it into an introductory course in strategic thinking, humble contemplation and more than anything else, patience.
Around the age of seven, my father sat me down to what appeared to be a fancy board game. In place of a colorful palate of mazes and shapes was a drab collection of black and white squares that left little to the imagination. In the absence of oversized dice, marbles or cartoon playing cares was a family of mahogany carved caricatures that overwhelmed my novice eyes. My young mind was anxious, but my father led me through the rules and steps with an admirable amount of patience. An occasional oatmeal cookie, glass of milk or donut always accompanied our games. And before long, I was able to consider myself a fairly decent chess player. Although those chess games occurred years ago, any time I sit down at my parents’ kitchen table the warm memories of cherished time spent with my father flood through me.
My mother has always been the heart of the kitchen. From finding just the right place settings to accent the culinary décor, to making sure aromas that magically conjure up hungry family members are always at hand, she can be counted on to make the family table a place of harvest. Whether it is visiting with lifelong sorority sisters, a long distance catch-up call to her brother or spending time with her grandchildren, there is bound to be an explosion of delightful conversation and spirited laughter. When she has the chance to reunite with old friends, she will often pull out old photo albums filled with pictures of her youth growing up in Kansas City, or her days at Fisk University.
As a family, we’ve laughed at candid shots of a younger version of my parents getting ready for a night on the town, all done up with afros and bell-bottom pants. Each photo has a story all its own that could lead to hours of rich rhetoric and the planting of new memories.
The kitchen table is more than a piece of furniture cleared each night after dinner, it is a safe haven where a person's race or ethnicity is not important. Its value is as priceless as the sterling silverware and best china that may rest upon it. At each sitting, what we digest is a portion of our daily lives that helps mold who we are and what we believe to be important. For me, it is a Sunday afternoon chess game with my father, a warm laugh with my mother and a way of life.