The Kitchen Table

Betty O’Reilly

In today’s world, house and furniture are bought simultaneously. Part of the deal, the package all neatly sewn up in the same mortgage along with the carpets and outdoor groundcovers. You get the big picture immediately, move in with the refrigerator, dishwasher, built in cupboards but strangely enough, the old kitchen table is often lacking. You don’t need one. There are benches to be used for chopping vegetables, that is of course if they are not frozen, benches to rest all the electrical appliances needed to do what the old wooden spoon and hand beater used to do. A fork was pretty good at whipping up eggs also. There are sinks to wash the dishes in and also the baby, so no table needed for that basin and tray for the dishes and the bath used for the baby. All the study, craft and general schoolwork done on the table is now in the hands of the computer. It directs the path of the student, silently adding to and expanding young minds further and further.

Give me the old table any day. The first I remember was in the centre of a cosy, warm room. It was always being used and when not, a family was seated around it, talking and eating. There were many like it, each of the extended family had one. They were like clones, with only the rooms differing. My Grandmother, Aunties, Annie Emily Val and Emmie, who lived within walking distance, all had one. I see my grandmother sitting alone, eating her tea; she is a little titchy, chasing her chop around the plate. “ How are you Gran?” I say. She is a little unresponsive so I know she hasn’t had a very happy day. She was probably hoping it was my mother who would visit. There is bread and buns rising on the table at Aunty Val’s and I am told to come back later for a bun. Aunty Emmie has cauliflower pickle and chutney in jars, waiting to be covered with a lid. Aunty Em’s Ginger cake has pride of place on her table and Aunty Annie’s is covered with lots of food freshly out of her oven. Baked beans, biscuits and bread, the aroma enough to really whet the appetite. All these ladies were wonderful cooks, wonderful mothers and I am quite sure that kitchen table was the most used piece of furniture in the home. It would have been purchased along with the other essential, the first double bed. These were the two important items for starting a home; everything else would follow in good time.

The table, which I found to be a treasure of mind, is the one in the kitchen of my teens. The centrepiece of a large family room, warm fireplace, which cooked the best of meals. It was not hampered with a dish for washing dishes as there was a sink under the window with draining board and tucked into the corner, a refrigerator. Unheard of. After only knowing ice chests and Coolgardie safes for keeping food cool, this was a bonus. We even made ice cream, but we are talking about tables and this one was surely indispensable. It was always in use in some form or another the best time being when all the family were at home and the conversation would fly around as it will when tribes get together. Saturday morning was very special. Buns and pastries would be collected from a local shop and whoever was around or cared to drop in, seemed to know it was THAT TIME!

I can remember it being covered with newspaper and prawns, freshly caught from the river below us, or mussels someone had dived for around some jetty or other, much to our Mother’s horror. It was used for the Christmas preparations. The mixing of the Christmas cakes the making of the shortbread and the final Dinner. It was probably quite offended to be left out of the celebrations as these took place in the dining room, it being a special time.

Breakfast comes to mind, with my father always the first up, the fire going, making the toast on the red embers and walking around, always walking around. He attended to our needs and only sat when his bacon and eggs were cooked.

I wonder what happened to that table?