A Place at the Table


By Marcelle Soviero, "A Place at the Table,"September/October 2012

An essay on what happens when the heart of the home disappears.

We see the stars through plastic sheathing where the roof of our home should be. “Is that the Big Dipper?” my youngest son asks, looking upward, scooping Chinese noodles into his mouth, the third takeout meal this week. “It could be,” I shout over the staccato punch of a nail gun.

The men are working late; the deadline has passed for our kitchen renovation, a project Eric and I have been planning since we married and chose this particular roof under which to raise our five kids, now ages 9 to 15. The house, built in 1872, was old and crooked, but seemed perfect­—except the kitchen, which was no bigger than a walk-in closet. But even my husband, who is the chef in our home, and a man who prides himself on fixing fine family dinners every day of the week, wanted the house.

Now six years later, our goal is to transform our shoebox kitchen into a room big enough for a table that will serve as a center for our family life. A table like the one I had in the kitchen of my childhood home, where I’d spend hours making Aunt Jewel’s raspberry bows with my mother, dipping each cookie in powdered sugar and placing them in boxes for delivery to someone for a birthday, always reserving four cookies for my siblings and me, which we’d eat with sweet tea.

Next: Family Memories »

I miss the table in that kitchen, the one long gone, where Aunt JoAnne and Nona would sit when they came for Sunday visits, the smells of roast chicken with rosemary lingering while they sipped strong coffee and I ate Nona’s cinnamon crumb cake. At the kitchen table they would sort things out—Aunt Milly’s recipe for meatballs, what to bring to Dotty’s potluck supper. I was a young listener then, the one who made the turkey-shaped place cards for the Thanksgiving table and finally, after years of being mentored, the thick turkey gravy for the meal. I believed the feeling around our kitchen table was different—and whatever was eaten there tasted better—than when I was a guest at other people’s homes.

Now I believe meals with my own children taste best. I miss my husband’s boeuf bourguignon simmering all day in the copper-bottomed pot on the stove and the children coming in the door after school and immediately asking, “What’s for dinner?” And I think back to how conversations over homemade ravioli helped form the connection Eric and I have to our five children and they to each other. When our children were younger our dinner conversation—tied directly to their attention spans—was short. But as the children have grown, our dinner conversations have lengthened, though they’re still sometimes punctuated with an impromptu rendition of “A Spoonful of Sugar” or a set of knock-knock jokes.

Next: A Taste of Home »

As the renovation continues, I’ve missed our meals more than I expected to. I don’t like the Chinese takeout—each of us receiving a different dish. I like eating the same meal together, and Eric and I never allowed ourselves to become short-order cooks catering to different childish palates. I miss setting the table and lighting the candles each evening, and folding napkins that finally make it to the children’s laps.

I tell myself we’re doing the right thing spending all this money on a larger kitchen that can fit the 10-foot table, made from reclaimed pine, that we bought long ago. Soon enough, we’ll turn in the takeout menus and return to Eric’s braised lamb chops or seven-layer lasagna. But for now the table is in storage and there’s a hole in the floor where the stove should be.

As another wall gets whacked, I imagine the memories and moments stored within the cracks of these plaster walls and I think about how I want this kitchen to always be the place my children return to. A place to enjoy all the suppers and holidays still to come. Too, I imagine how years from now they might come back here after life’s adventures lead them away. How I’ll want them to return and gather around the big wooden table, well worn from years of meals and good conversation.

Connecticut writer Marcelle Soviero’s kitchen is finally complete.