Two-bit Guru | Around the Kitchen Table | Photo of a kitchen table, charis and a vase with flowers.

“Of the many thousands of hours spent around kitchen tables—those eternal kitchen tables of the poor!—there is not much to say.” ~Joyce Carol Oates, in Them.

“Of those eternal kitchen tables of the poor there is considerable to say.” ~Two-Bit Guru

Looking back, the first thing about kitchen tables is that they were in the kitchen. The kitchen had the fridge and the stove, and the food and the beverages. The table with chairs all around it was the best place in the house to sit, particularly in winter because the kitchen was warm. If there was baking going on, and there often was, sitters at the table got first dibs.

My relatives on both sides tended to congregate around the kitchen table. That was where deals were made, burial insurance purchased from an agent wearing a suit, car titles transferred, arguments exploded. The kitchen table was the only surface appropriate for my Dad to slam down his fist for emphasis when anyone dared to disagree with him. At one time or another, everyone did disagree with him. And even in the height of argument about the President or the north side ice skating rink or Aunt Helen’s boyfriends, there was a sense of camaraderie.

My great aunt played solitaire there, and at my aunt and uncle’s house euchre was played on their kitchen table. Homework was a kitchen table chore, and where crosswords were solved as well. It was a place for contemplation, a place for a hot cup of coffee for grownups, hot cocoa for kids. It was the place to clean your fishing reel or, carefully, your .22 caliber rifle. It was a place to smoke a cigarette, after cleaning the rifle. It was a place to snack with sausage and Velveeta on Ritz crackers. It was a place to tell a good joke.

Our kitchen table was wooden and covered with yellow-checked oil cloth, not the old-fashioned kind that had been made with fabric and actual oil, but the more modern stuff made with vinyl (an oil derivative) coated on fabric. It was held in place with red-headed thumbtacks spaced around the perimeter.

Chrome and formica tables became popular in the 1950’s, which I thought was an insult to the spirit of the kitchen table, but formica did nothing to alter the table’s many functions. These days there are original chrome and formica kitchen sets for sale at outrageous prices in second-hand stores. The 1950’s are upon us again, spruced up conceptually as mid-century modern.

I’m sticking with the old wooden table that has been with us for decades. It’s got something that modern often lacks, even modern from 60 years ago. It’s got soul. There’s probably the makings of a whole book taking place around somebody’s kitchen table, right now.