A friend sent me this piece today, which I wrote way back in 2000 when I was living in a group house - well before kids had entered the picture. I had forgotten about it, but, reading through, it seems nothing much has changed. So I've blown off the dust and present it here, a message from the archives.
Our house has the happy combination of a large dining room opening off the kitchen and a pleasant dining room table.
The dining room is the brain of the household. It contains the telephone, the household diary, the newspapers, and the message pad. Most conversations take place in the dining room, and most decisions are made within the walls.
But the wooden table is our household's heart. Like all good hearts, it has been scratched, scorched and scarred by careless users, but is still large and serviceable. It stands in the centre of the dining room. As one housemate moves around the kitchen, another sits at the table and reads or puzzles or doodles. Conversations float between the rooms.
The table is the setting for glorious Saturday breakfasts. Housemates and guests come together to feast. We load the table with croissants and rolls, fruit and cereal, butter and jam. Sections of the newspaper litter the floor. By coffee time we have solved the general knowledge crossword and we can start to unravel the cryptic. Conversations fly as we catch up and gossip and tell stories. Our household is sanctified by our Saturday morning breakfasts.
We have held countless dinners around it. Candles light the room, red wine flows, conversation bounds along. One of us jumps up to consult a dictionary; another wanders to the kitchen and, still talking, brews coffee or reaches into the oven for a pudding.
I have a Scrabble friend who lives in Hobart. When he is in town we play fierce matches. The table stands placidly through the squalls.
Flowers adorn it; papers litter it; magazines clutter it. A cat sleeps under it and is outraged when unsuspecting visitors inadvertently kick her.
In the late afternoon the sun slants across its surface. We drink endless cups of tea and chat about cats and community, and we place our hands where the wood glows with warmth. Our heads propped on our hands, we lament over lost loves. We tell ridiculous stories and laughter bubbles up from deep within. The table is steeped in these moments, and every meal taken at it, every game played on it, every conversation held over it is infused with traces of this joy.
I have lived in houses with eating areas far from the kitchen; houses where the dining rooms are dark and poky; and a house with a fiendish table whose legs tripped the unwary. Never again. I have been converted. My church is a well-used kitchen, and a large and serviceable table.
Originally published in Patmos, 2003.