A study in Britain suggested that the dining table, once a focal point of family life, is vanishing from British homes due to a lack of space, a preference to eat in front of the television and a rise in divorces. Another study found that more than one quarter of British homes did not have a dining room table, while the sales of office furniture continued to rise. TV dinners and the Internet are tearing families apart. In Britain, anyway.
Here in the good old US of A there the happy family around the dining room table has been disappearing ever since we saw it more on television than in our own homes. I have a solid recollection of how important sitting down for dinner as a family was for us. My mother had some rules that she insisted on enforcing, such as "No singing at the table." I can't imagine that would have been the case in the Von Trapp household, but no matter. Periodically we were allowed to play some of our "kid music" during dinner - this tended to coincide with the onset of puberty for each boy - an attempt to announce to the family his position in life upon entering manhood. What does it say about me that I picked Boston's first album to try out on my parents on one particular autumn evening?
I can remember the special occasions that we would roll our portable television into the kitchen to watch important cultural events like "Green Acres" and "Batman." When my grandmother came to babysit, we would watch "Hee-Haw" as we gnawed on our Salisbury steak and hoped that we would be excused before she turned over to watch Lawrence Welk. Having the TV on with grandma was a good thing, since it limited the potential for conversation with the woman we referred to lovingly as "the Great Stoneface of Kansas."
The dining room table for my family was the place to work out your new material. It wasn't much different from a comedy club on open mike night. My older brother and I would do our five minutes and get off, leaving room for our headliner, my father to put us over the top. My younger brother sat patiently for years - biding his time, not speaking during meal time just to avoid the hassle of trying to get a word in edgewise. My mother waited us all out. Just when it might have been time for her to speak her mind, our dog would start yapping at her to get his dinner. We had dinner together around the same table as a family, and then with our friends who wanted to come and check out the spectacle that was the Caven family dinner. Even after we each left for college, we would come back - often bringing friends - to sample the controlled anarchy that was suppertime.