I bought mine at a second-hand store. It’s Pepto-Bismol pink, although the paint is worn from pink to white to bare wood along the edges, hinting at past incarnations and the tastes of previous owners. It is wobbly and, despite being well-scrubbed, home to several stubborn, ring-shaped stains—the ghosts of only three among the countless cups of tea I’ve had to drink there. It is the site of some of my best memories and, as I’ve come to realize while screening guest book entries for Legacy.com over the past two years, I am not alone in that feeling. People come to the guest books to share their favorite memories of loved ones, and what so many of those memories have in common is that—whether they are about men or women, teachers, surgeons, artists, war veterans, or race car drivers—they happened around a kitchen table.
To determine just how ubiquitous the kitchen table is in our collective memory, I did a quick search of the Legacy.com database for obituaries containing the key words “kitchen table.” Searching only between the years 2000 and 2009 produced nearly a thousand results. In the vast majority of those results, those two words are nestled into the warmth of sentences like these from the notice for Martha Warren Stevens, published in the Times of Northwest Indiana:
Although she was active and fiercely independent, we remember best the warm and cozy home she created for all her family to return to. We will forever cherish sitting in her sunny kitchen with a cup of coffee, a plate of homemade cookies and her undivided attention, telling her our dreams, troubles and passions. We are all better people having had her love in our lives.
In quite a few of the notices, though, the words “kitchen table” showed up in some surprising ways. What struck me first was how many people’s earliest interactions with their kitchen tables—right up through the early 1940s—came when they were born on it. Beyond that, the list of things that occur on and around kitchen tables is nearly limitless and includes watching wildlife, cheering on a favorite team, playing cards and board games, engaging in political debates, painting, writing, doing homework, earning advanced degrees, starting businesses and, of course, making memories.
To be sure, not all of the memories were good ones, such as this one from the notice for Harold R. Goss, published in the Arizona Daily Star:
His youth was spent in England during WWII, walking uphill in the snow to school (both ways), hiding from Nazi bombs under the kitchen table with his four brothers and sisters (for real) and having his favorite, new, white pup tent painted green so the bombers wouldn’t see him.
Or this one, about Howard Frederick Lovfald, published in the Eureka Times-Standard:
Stranded in Scotia during the “64” flood, he and fellow employees were crucial in removing and saving machinery from the rising waters of the Eel. Much to the family’s elation, P.L. flew Daddy out of Scotia on Xmas Eve, via Highway 101, so he could spend Xmas with his family. Though he was happy to be with us, I remember him crying at the kitchen table most of the evening in sorrow for his many friends and their families who watched as their homes, belongings, and animals were taken by the unforgiving river.
But the majority of the memories were of happier times, such as this one from the notice for Evelyn McBreairty, published in the Bangor Daily News, about a woman who turned her kitchen table into a stopping place for tired paddlers:
Evelyn was a lifelong resident of Allagash, and the majority of her time was spent doting to the people from afar who made the Allagash canoe trip. At the end of their journey they would come ashore on her property to take out. The warmth of her kitchen welcomed many a weary or rain drenched stranger. The table often times had dishes of nuts, fruit or candy for the weary canoeist.
Or this one, from the notice for Patricia Gallagher, published in the Express-News, about a woman who used her kitchen table to achieve her dreams of becoming a writer:
She perfected her talents and became an accomplished historical romance author all while keeping up with her duties of a wife and mother. It was her usual routine to wake up early, make breakfast for her husband and son, see them off to work and school and then pull out her ol’ Smith Corona typewriter and ‘pound away’ at the kitchen table until her family returned home. She would put away the day’s work, make dinner for the family and retire for the evening only to start all over the next day.
There were hilarious memories—though perhaps only in retrospect—such as this one from the notice for Jean Gilson, published in the Salt Lake Tribune:
We all remember the day she left her three sons at the kitchen table to buy some milk for their cereal. Eighteen holes of golf later she returned to three boys waiting patiently at the kitchen table.
My favorite kitchen table memory, by far, though, was from the notice for Autheta “Theta” Burke, published in the Record Eagle:
Theta Burke, 82, died at her home Friday, July 10, as the sun greeted the day and welcomed her “home”. Before she moved to northwest Lower Michigan, Theta preferred sunsets to sunrises. Each morning though, as she sat at her kitchen table with pen, paper and a cup of black coffee looking out at her “sea”, she soon came to appreciate the beauty of a sunrise.