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Seated Around the Table Part Three — My Kids and Grandkids

We opened the wall

In 1624, John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Of course, he was writing about the interconnectedness of humanity, but when we finally succumbed to the notion of an “open concept” in our 1911-built house, we also changed how we sat around the table for our children’s and grandchildren’s generations.

In January, 2015, we decided to knock down the wall between our kitchen and dining room. Up until then, we had lived for 40 years with a wall and door that cut the kitchen off from the rest of our house. The door came in handy for confining our aging and incontinent dog to the kitchen area. Once he was gone, we removed the door but kept the wall, meaning we had to walk around that wall and through the narrow kitchen entrance whenever we used our dining room to entertain, which was often. Usually, we ate at a kitchen table, so it was only awkward for larger gatherings.

The island was good for projects like this

By 2015, our kids were all living in spaces that included kitchen islands, and I fear the family dinner has pretty much bitten the dust for them. Outside activities no longer respected the concept of a family eating together. Islands with stools, processed convenience foods, and microwave ovens made family dinner more like eating at the counter of a diner. Everyone ate what they want when they wanted, which is made possible by the variety of foods that could be quickly nuked to please every palate. Ordering in, a concept limited to an occasional pizza in my day, was a way of life for them. With activities like dance classes, swim practices, soccer games, cross country, music lessons, and a multitude of sports practices and activities, they rarely ate at the same time. The only time they all sat down together was on a holiday or in a restaurant.

The demise of the family dinner was definitely a loss in my book. It was at the dinner table that we talked about our day, shared our ideas, learned some basic table manners, and connected as a family. We used to have extended family dinners for holidays, and my assignment was Thanksgiving and sometimes Passover. That also went by the wayside as extended families got too large, and only one of my children lived in town.

Passover in the old days

Once we opened the wall, we wondered what took us so long. Our isolated kitchen was the product of an era in which no one wanted to see the kitchen help or mess. Of course, that “help” was me and I did hate being isolated from the family and guests while I did meal prep and clean up for dining room gatherings. What Fred and I had envisioned was that we would eat our dinners in the dining room, but we ended up seated side-by-side at that island. And then, in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, we moved. Our condo is really open concept, so exactly the same island/diner feel as we eat side-by-side.

Between the pandemic and the logistics of getting everyone here from out of town, we don’t break bread together as an extended family for holidays anymore. That is the biggest loss of all for me. Perhaps our kitchen island is the perfect metaphor for the loss of those beloved family dinners.

Our new island


by Laurie Levy
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