I attended an important business luncheon a few days ago with a lot of impressive suits. I could tell that by the number of silk neckties and Armeni jackets on the men and the dark skirts on the ladies. There was something else I noticed too. There was no more room at the table where these people were prepared to talk business and have lunch. I did notice another table however, a small distance from the main one. I sat down there and pretty soon there were three of us – sitting away from the main table like some sort of social lepers.
One of the other two guys who ended up sitting there with me at the other table was my cousin, Gene. When the meals were served, Gene and I could not help but to reminisce about our days as kids. Back then our families got together for most major holidays. Extended family was far more valued and relevant in those times. We cousins put in a lot of time together because all of our parents did, and there weren’t too many dull moments either. There were a few of us who may have gotten into the gene pool when the lifeguard was off duty. If they would have put pictures of missing children on milk cartons back in those days, I am pretty sure that there would have been more than one parent from that group down at the grocery store drawing mustaches on the likenesses.
The thing that triggered our reminiscences was the fact that we were having this meal at a table apart from the main group. For Gene and I this was not a situation that was foreign to us. Whenever there was a large family gathering, there was a separate table set up for the youngsters. The Christmas dinners were usually held out at my Aunt Olga’s house. Her farm home had a formal dining area and that table was reserved for the adults. We kids – the cousins – were segregated and fed separately out in the kitchen. The adults referred to it as the “kid’s table” but the kids referred to it as the “dirtball table.” I am not sure when we were allowed to graduate to the adult table. I know you could get there by getting married, but before that, the rule was pretty hazy.
When I talk to other people my own age, it seems like that was a pretty common experience. Those were the days when children were supposed to be seen and not heard. Our parents looked forward to those holiday meals with family, and they viewed exposure to cholera as preferable to them instead of us kids invading the tranquility of their table. It seemed funny; our parents usually had a rule that would forbid us to associate with unsavory characters, but it was like that rule was suspended when we sat down at the “dirtball” table with our cousins.
It really wasn’t so bad, it was just the idea of the thing.
By being segregated, we just had that feeling of not being wanted in the main
dining room. Which by the way, was true. So when mealtime came, off we trudged
– a group almost as large as O.J.’s legal team — off to the “dirtball” table
with as much enthusiasm as is usually shown for second-hand underwear at a
“Dogpatch” rummage sale. You could try
to show that you were old and big enough to be at the adult table, but until
you had actually taken a spouse of your own, it was as predictable as a Cuban
election that you would wind up in the kitchen where the dirtball had been set
Our respective mothers and fathers were part of a family of eight children. When you threw in a passel of their own kids, it was quite a crew to feed. Probably more than would fit at any single table anyway. Plus the fact that once there, the food was generally hotter since our mothers always wanted us to feed us first and to have our plates filled with huge mounds of food to occupy us. That way we would not be bothering them for more gravy or white meat while they were trying to enjoy a childless meal.
We usually ended up having more fun this way anyway. We were not very good at manners yet, and at the dirtball table such amenities were not required – or in some cases even tolerated. My cousin Gene, who I have mentioned above could be as entertaining on a good day as Daffy Duck on a sugar high and I had another cousin who had the amazing talent of being able to let loose with a burp the size of an Alberta air mass – an act that would send the whole table into the paroxysms of laughter that would usually cause milk to leak out of several noses. Shouts and warnings of disapproval would usually come from about four mothers out in the main dining room, each one thinking that their own demon seed was capable of such a crude act. The more mothers we could upset, the more we enjoyed our meal.
Anyway, there I was last week, again sitting with my cousin, Gene – about forty years later or so and sitting amongst a group of business men and women – but still at the dirtball table.