A Childhood of Grown Ups Around the Table & Winter Memories
The coming of winter was relatively a quiet time in our sea side town of ole Del Mar, the fair and the races long gone, my Dad would have usually put the finishing touches on yet another wonderful home he had designed and custom built for a family to move in to for the holidays, so he would be home more, maybe doing projects in the garage, we would have music playing or my Mom would be playing the piano with lots of Christmas songs, cookies baking, not the snow the Currier and Ives kind of Christmas but wonderful in its own way with the sound of the waves lapping at the shore and the ocean changing its color with the season or an incoming storm.
Usually just after Thanksgiving, at the appointed time we would jump in his truck and go up to the Del Mar market basement and pick out our Christmas tree which would be promptly decorated and proudly displayed with lights a blaze in the front picture window for all driving on our street to enjoy.
At our house we had two fire places, one in the knotty pine paneled “breeze way” crafted from river rock my dad selected on his way home, in Sorrento Valley over many months and built himself, on the opposite wall were two huge picture windows looking out over the Pacific ocean. The other fireplace was in the living room and was white rock from floor to ceiling, with windows on either side facing west towards the Pacific and a huge picture window looking north up the coast of California to the right with the kitchen to the left with windows on all sides, and my mom’s piano on the east wall. During this time of year both fireplaces would be glowing with logs to warm us with welcoming heat embracing us instead of the dampness of living on the ocean.
But mostly, I remember “the voices”, I remember the happy chatter, & the laughter, the sometimes serious hushed undertones as they spoke of things children should not be worried about. On a given winter evening or after the Thanksgiving or Christmas meals, there might have been a dozen or more of us clustered around my Aunt Ena’s dining room table or in her kitchen, perhaps with a kid or two perched on the counter tops or on my Granny’s treadle sewing machine cabinet, the table still ladened with plates of goodies to pick at as everyone relaxed; Grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles, cousins, talking, laughing, and discussing daily news or politics, sometime heatedly.
Gathering together like this, partaking in the conversation as a kid was a big deal because it meant people who really loved you would listen to you, you had everyone’s ear and attention, you could share your story of the day or just share a joke, asking innocent or embarrassing questions that might challenge the narrative like was there really a Santa Claus or an Easter Bunny, or maybe the elders would share pearls of wisdom like “don’t wish your life away” when we all wanted to grow up and have our driver’s licenses for more freedom.
Typically though, after a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal was the adult after-dinner talk, which tended to be more serious, the tone would change, the volume of the voices sometimes too, so this was usually the grown-ups only zone, as us kids played with toys, went outside, or if we had enough daylight all us kids would mostly scatter to walk on the beach or sit in front of the TV, leaving the adults to talk among themselves in mostly pleasant, low rumble tones, sometimes punctuated by gales of laughter.
I was the kind of kid, as was my cousin Tim, who was drawn to the delicious drone of voices like a bee is drawn to the most colorful flower hoping for the sweetest nectar. So we two were usually lurking around the edges of that big conversation table, or on the edges just outside of that room; when I was much younger I would be burrowed into someone’s lap, typically my Uncle Joe’s or my Dad’s listening to comforting sound of their heart beats.
In the same way I can hum certain songs from my youth without recalling only some of the lyrics of a favorite tune, I could not really tell you what the adults at that table spoke about, at those times it really didn’t matter, it just mattered that the voices I loved so much, and who loved me, were swirling around me like a protective cloud. It meant that the grownups were on the scene, and I was safe no matter what in their embrace, in their essence, in their collective energy.
Now that I’m one of those grownup voices at our now very small family gatherings, I think I have a better sense about what it might have been like for the adults at the table gathered, two generations always having been together raising yet another generation, and then a fourth generation. There would be simmering disagreements which seemed to go from gathering to gathering (mostly political), stories shared, ideas debated; gossip about other folks or maybe neighbors not present; infectious, uncontrollable gales of laughter triggered by memories of ancient, shared family history. going back for three generations, maybe to England, another time or place, or when they all lived in the outskirts of Detroit, stories of how my parents met, or of World War II (my Dad a Marine my Uncle Joe was Navy) and the loss of my Auntie May’s love of her life Uncle Duffy (also Navy on the USS Indianapolis).
At this time of year I so miss sitting around that grownups’ table, hearing the old worn out family stories told warmly and mostly with laughter, reminiscing about childhoods past in a simpler, safer time and those who are gone knowing their stories and the roles they played in the family history, because it had a way of revealing the identities within our family group, the integrity and the love that has been passed down to us to share with our future generations.
I wish that my house today would be filled with the gatherings of those voices once again, the warm, the loving, the funny, the political. I am sometimes transported back in time when I close my eyes and remember those tables held in those familiar places, with familiar smells of the season. I’m grateful for the sense of fellowship they’ve given me over the years, the smiles as I think of all of them and those growing up years on 6th Street and the warmth of my Aunt Ena’s table on 8th.
But for the grownups at the table, these conversation were never meant to be the comforting background noise that might lull a child to sleep, as there were times of contentiousness of the conversations, especially during the Cold War, the threat of Nuclear War when we as kids had emergency drills diving under our desks and covering our heads, looking out over the Pacific Ocean from the school play ground for any evidence of “the” mushroom cloud or the growing years of Viet Nam war when the draft was calling the younger generation to war including my cousin Michael and my former husband their places around the table empty for a time; the hushed tones of the adults speaking of the assassinations of John Kennedy, of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King; maybe thinking that the sharing of these thoughts and feelings would connect us all more deeply to our fellow humans, to help us grow and think on our own in the years to come when the elders would no longer be around those tables, in physical form, to share their wise counsel with us, but will always be there in spirit.
May you all have wonderful memories of the adults around the table, and make more for your generations to come as you site around your tables for Thanksgiving and Christmas.