Houses were much smaller when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s. Even new houses in Tulsa were small. I grew up in Mingo, just north of the city, a tiny community where none of the houses were new.
Nearly everyone in Mingo ate their meals at the kitchen table. There were almost no dining rooms in my neighborhood. I can only remember 2. Every night families gathered together after their day to share the evening meal. Late afternoon activities that would interfere with a meal were unheard of. Kids in my neighborhood didn’t have dance lessons, and very rarely piano lessons. I had heard there was a boys Little League team but in those days it would not have interfered with the evening meal.
It was a working class neighborhood. After school (and maybe a little television), weather permitting, children played outside: little kids played with dolls or cars, yard games like Hopscotch, Hide and Seek, Statues, Red Light-Green Light, or dress-up and make believe; bigger kids rode their bikes, played driveway basketball, or impromptu softball. Mothers prepared the evening meal. Dads came home from work.
Families sat down together and ate dinner. Webster defines ‘dinner’ as the principal meal of the day. My mother always referred to our evening meal as supper, because when she was a girl, the noon meal was the big one and her mother called it dinner. But unlike her growing up years when her father operated a country store a hundred yards from her house, my father worked at Douglas Aircraft or on a construction job and was too far away at noon to come home and eat. But old habits die hard, and even though she cooked every night, she still called it supper.
So, kitchens were an integral part of our homes.
The kitchen table was where my mother cut out the fabric for the clothes she made for us, where we did our homework, played cards or dominoes on Saturday night and met again each evening over home cooked food. I can remember the table covered with waxed paper and freshly glazed yeast doughnuts that my mother made. And how it felt to sit on my dad’s lap and learn how to play dominoes and Hearts; I don’t remember ever being told to go away while the grown-ups played cards. It was where I sat while my mother helped me practice my spelling words. At Christmas, I made marshmallow snowmen and helped my mother put stamps on Christmas cards. I must have been pretty young the first time because I remember 4 cent stamps – this was a penny less than normal postage for envelopes that weren’t sealed.
Our kitchen, 1966
Somehow my mother was able to cook the holiday meals – from scratch – in the same room we ate in and kept it looking nice for the meal. My dad was a John Wayne type but he helped her cook Christmas dinner. However, on Thanksgiving morning, he and my brother were always out hunting. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were always at noon, and I can remember that I used to worry that they wouldn’t be back from hunting so that we could eat on time. They nearly always were.
My family was not able to pass down many family mementos. In 1937, my maternal grandparents home and store were covered with flood water for 2 weeks, ruining nearly everything they had. A few photographs survived and a Bible that still has the silt from the Ohio River dried in its pages. My father’s family had to leave everything at a friend’s house when they left Oklahoma when my grandmother died in the mid-1920’s. They were never able to retrieve their possessions. Oddly enough, only my grandfather’s blacksmithing anvil remains. It weighed about 100 pounds.
So, I didn’t inherit really old family treasures, but I do have several things from my childhood and one of them is our kitchen table. Not the first one I remember – 1950’s chrome and gray formica topped. The one they bought in 1964 – brown, wood grain formica with painted scenes in two opposite corners. It’s the one you can see in the background of some of my recipe and craft posts.
It’s not valuable or even particularly lovely to anyone else. Our home isn’t big enough to have a dining room, so our old table sits in the middle of our kitchen. It’s the one that my dad sat at to feed our sons, and it’s the one we sit around with our grandsons and share meals when they come to visit.