The Family Table

J. Wiley Adams

The family meal is an occasion that can help to unify the family. Memories of pleasant times around the table for me are very pronounced. This is true whether I look back to my own boyhood days or whether I consider the matter in terms of my own family, children and grandchildren.

I grew up in different times that included the great depression and World War II. Breakfast was a main event at our house. Everyone had to work and thus everyone needed to eat a substantial meal. Diets and various food restrictions were unheard of. We all worked so hard nobody in the family was “fat.” Everyone came to the table at meal time and no one dared say “I don’t like” this, that, or the other which was on the table. We could not afford to be “picky” about our food. Whatever was on the table you were glad to have it, and you asked for more. You knew it had to last until the next mealtime. Eating between meals was not a well known practice in those days.

Since we lived in the country we always had plenty to eat. We raised our own hogs, chickens, had our own milk cows. Thus, eggs and butter were always in abundance with plenty of “clabber” to make biscuits. Vegetables were in abundance while jelly, jam preserves, molasses and various kinds of fruit were plentiful.

The abundant table, the family gathered around that table, my father’s fervent prayers of thanksgiving before we ate, the warmth and security of family togetherness all combined to create something most wholesome and memorable. I remember such times now with pleasure and nostalgia.

We lived in the times of three meals a day. In Virginia we called them breakfast, dinner and supper. I still call them that in the absence of any good reason to change.

We learned a certain discipline at the table. You waited for things to be passed to you or if the bowl was too hot you were told to “pass your plate.” Many an unnecessary spill was avoided by such a practice. There was order. Children were allowed to speak when they wanted something to be passed or an extra helping. Otherwise, they ate and listened to the conversation. In this arrangement good manners were learned without the aid of an etiquette book.

So the two things that were outstanding was the food and the talk. Both were involved in the family meal and as far as I was concerned essential the one to the other. The children were not allowed to dominate the scene. Such presumption would result in a hard look and gave much promise of a hard lick should breach of conduct continue. I learned many things around the table. I doubt if I would have learned very much if I had been allowed to run my mouth all the time.

I just know that the prayers three times a day helped me. Even twice a day, when school and work schedules prevented a mid-day meal together, was a great uplift. Billboards and various advertisements sometimes set forth the idea “the family that prays together stays together.” There is much truth in this but it might be even more emphatic to say “the family that prays and eats together stays together.”

Contrast the foregoing things with some typical current practices. Moms and Dads often skip breakfast, leave at different times for different jobs. The children are told to “get yourself some cereal and a glass of milk and don’t be late for school.” They eat, if at all, one at a time, maybe a rote prayer is recited in an unintelligible and hurried manner, the kids leave an empty house (with their own key, of course) they eat lunch in the school cafeteria hurriedly, come home to an empty house. Mom and Dad arrive home from work late, send out for hamburgers, pizza, or some other calorie-laden, greasy fast food or perhaps a frozen dinner. They eat the evening meal with haste nervously. The children are so glad to be home and are so starved for some kind of family togetherness that they talk incessantly, all at the same time, as if they must hang on to this rare occasion for dear life.

Then the children are driven to their rooms to study their lessons, allowed an hour of TV (much of which is unsuitable), drive them to bed after a “quick prayer,” so the parents can relax and watch TV before retiring. So goes many days in our modern society. Is it any wonder that families break up? There are no guideline memories or secure times for them to draw on. A popular country music song today tells quite a story. It is entitled, “Grandpa, Tell Us Of The Good Old Days” and goes on to emphasize a deep longing in the hearts of many young people for a return to grass roots values and a slower but more meaningful life.

A special meal time for me was always Sunday morning. Then we had “cheese biscuits.” My mother is the world’s champion at this delicious mealtime achievement. We all got up early enough to eat at the same time. The meal consisted of Mama’s famed cheese biscuits, ham, red-eye gravy, scrambled eggs, with butter and jelly or preserves of some kind. My Daddy did not think the table was set unless there was something “sweet” on the table to finish off the biscuits. Then we all got up and got ready to go to worship services and we arrived on time. This was possible because we took our baths on Saturday night as well as shinned our shoes. Bible lessons were done on Saturday evenings and we still had time to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio.

Brethren, have we lost something that should be revived? The family circle, the family prayers, around the family table? Will your children and grandchildren have such pleasant memories to sustain them in the days and years ahead? Are they being cheated from an invaluable heritage? Think about it!

Searching The Scriptures Volt 47, Sept 1986