My family rarely sat around a table growing up. We would each make a plate and sit in the living room, maybe someone would stand in the doorway, holding their plate and scarfing it down. The table was used only a few times a year for special occasions— holidays and birthdays. As a teen, an aggressive romantic idealism was my weird and particular brand of angst. I was always pining to be elsewhere. Somewhere without strip malls, hummers and cheerleaders. Somewhere where couples had heady tete a tetes and drank aperitifs in black cashmere.
During this time, my desires would combust, concluding in a fully set table that I would then force everyone to sit around and eat dinner. I’d fill a pitcher with water, find a vase that was gathering dust in a high up cupboard to throw some flowers in, put all of the dishes in the nicest serving bowls we had, and fold up the cotton napkins in storage reserved for holidays. I would also pour myself wine without asking (sorry for the hugely inflamed ego fueled by moral relativity and being 16, mom.) I think everyone else felt it was a little forced and awkward, but I loved the formality and theater of it. Not to mention, the inundation of media and movies where nuclear families sat at set tables every night for long-labored meals was undoubtedly affecting my adolescent idea of happiness and togetherness.
Looking back, I see the irony in forcing togetherness under such draconian and narrow formalism. And while I still very much appreciate a a well set table with proper trimmings and interesting conversation, I understand that the feelings of love, content, warmth and family, come from somewhere a lot deeper than a crystal flute, and are often much simpler than a heady conversation. The fact that I had a loving family, and that we ate food that was lovingly prepared, together, in any setting, was what mattered deep-down. The fact that we sit down at work with just a simple plate full of some really good home-made food, can be life-giving. Joy is found by being together and eating, plain and simple.
Last month, East Fork donated around 500 plates to Haywood St. Respite, a safe place for homeless adults to recuperate, be well fed, get proper rest, and get back on their feet following discharge from a hospital. The shelter houses and cares for 8 adults at a time, who are in too poor a condition to recover from surgery or acute illness on their own. Having three meals a day is a critical part of recovery, and something that Haywood St. takes seriously. Eating food off of a real plate at a table surrounded by people who care, can provide feelings of dignity, security, and feeling loved. After we donated these plates, we received a truly heart-warming thank you letter from founding pastor Brian Combs.
While it is true that having a glamorously curated table can make us really happy, we can sometimes get overly caught up in the theater of the holidays. And really, it's the basics that makes us feel whole. Eating together is something that makes us human, and it's an indispensable East Fork value. We make dinnerware because we believe in the quiet power of sharing meals, not only during the holidays, but year round. Before you get too stressed out this holiday, remember the real reasons why we gather: food, love, and community.