Dinner was nearly always at the table. Breakfast rarely was, and lunch only occasionally. But dinner – almost always. The only exception was having hot chips on a rug on the floor if we arrived home late. Or if we had visitors, and the adults sat at the table and us kids were relegated to the rug on the floor. But even that rug had precision – it had etiquette. There were expectations about how to set the rug and the table.
I remember being very young and carrying plates to the table. I remember the moment Mum let me carry a glass to the table, and when she let me carry two – one in each hand. I must have only been about four.
We always started with a tablecloth or placemats of some sort. We also always had napkins – even if they were just squares of paper towel folded in half. We did have cloth napkins and napkin rings with our initials on too. But sometimes a slice of pizza works best with a paper towel napkin.
There would be cutlery – and not just a fork – the whole kit and caboodle: fork, knife and a spoon for pudding. Yes, we ate pudding most nights – generally fruit and custard, ice-cream or a baked dessert like apple crumble or rice pudding. Sometimes just bread and jam. Not a gigantic bowl – we’re talking a small spoon of ice cream and a couple of pieces of fruit.
There would be a jug of water and glasses.
And often a centre-piece – it might just be a candle, it might be a flower from outside in a little bit of water. It might just be an ornament. But we would have something in the middle of the table.
Lastly – condiments. Salt, pepper, tomato sauce, hot sauce, mustard, olive oil, vinegar.
These were The Basics.
This is how we sat down to eat dinner. As a family. Perhaps it sounds strange now because one of the saddest things some families have absent-mindedly misplaced – is the Family Dinner.
To set the table, is to set your intention. To set your family a place to come together and share a meal – to break bread, to talk and listen. To set the table is one ritual I am glad Mum instilled in all of us.
Does it still sound formal? It wasn’t. It was normal.