In the late forties when all the G.I.’s came home from the service of their country, it was a time of celebration. In a small town in rural North Dakota, It was also time for extended families to get together. Celebrations like Thanksgiving and Christmas were just such celebratory occasions.
Our family was close knit because so many of my extended family grew up, graduated, married and raised their kids close to home. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas we would have the holiday dinner at the farm home of my aunt Olga in rural McLean County in North Dakota.
Her farm home had a formal dining area, and that table was reserved for the adults. We kids – the many and sundry cousin’s – were segregated and ate separately out in the kitchen. The adults referred to it as the “kid’s table” but the cousins viscerally referred to it as the “dirtball table.” The rules were very vague as to when we were allowed to graduate to the adult table. We knew you got there by getting married but until you took spouse, the rules were pretty hazy.
I think that it was pretty common in those days when the mantra for adults was that children should be seen and not heard. I don’t think that the cousins were really upset by being at our own table, the rules were far looser, it was just that we railed at the idea of being segregated and unwelcome in the main dining room for fear we would hear some “adult-speak.”
Such amenities as good manners were not required at the dirtball table. I had one cousin, Mort, who had the amazing talent of being able to let lose a burp the size of an Alberta air mass – an act that would send the whole table in paroxysms of laughter that the other diners would try to unsuccessfully to stifle, which usually caused milk to leak out of several noses.
Shouts and warnings of disapproval would come our mothers, each one thinking that her own demon seed was responsible. It seemed the more the mothers got upset, the more we pointed and tried unsuccessfully to not laugh. The constant amusement was a small measure of revenge for being excluded.
As the older cousins would eventually leave the dirtball table for the more responsible, (but less mirthful), adult table, there were far fewer of us left. I think the adults thought that rather isolate about two or three of us when the dirtball table reached those diminishing numbers – that it would be overly exclusive and bordered on discrimination.
As former members of the dirtball table we all managed to behave with good manners and decorum after being promoted. I think that all of us originally had some indignation at first at being sequestered to a “lesser” table in our youth, but there is not a cousin that does not fondly on the hi-jinx that was the “dirtball table.” Whenever something calls for family to be together, inevitably the topic comes to the dirtball table.