Growing up around a rectangular table mother sat at the head with her back to the kitchen , facing the backdoor. With her permission daddy sat with his back against the wall and to her right. A small window above him spred a dim light on his ivory plate from the shadow of the carport. Around the old oak table, a family heirloom, surrounded by dark pine paneling made in 1962 an encasement of torture and family blessing said over mashed potatoes and fried chicken. Learning to navigate the world and hide our fears we swallowed guilt, shame and a the code of ” Father knows best.”
“Come to the table when your mother calls. Sit!” he said.
“Cover your chest with your sweaty shirt. Cover your shoulders with your blouse.” “Wash your hands. Remove the grease and the dirt. Make them smell like lye soap.” “ Keep your feet under the table.” ( boots, mud and manure) “No hats!” –(baseball or cowboy) “Off!” he yelled. Food is offered in times of death, divorce and disease, celebration of births, marriages and anniversaries. For special dinners let all the children first. Feed the men. Serve them and fill their glasses with ice, tea and sugar. When they leave to the living room watch the women eat the remains. Girls wash dishes. Sweep the crumbs. Take small bites of humility. Keep your elbows off the table. Chewing with your opinions closed.
“Pass the secrets, please. ”
If you don’t like it and it burns your mouth eat it, swallow it, pretend it’s the best you’ve ever tasted. When you can’t swallow you’ll be eating more of the same thing as everyone watches. Silent rules you’ll never know until someone disobeys.
“Don’t use the napkin to blow your nose.”
It’s okay to use it to sneeze. When you drop your fork pick it up. Wipe the mud from the carpet off your fork with the napkin. Mother will clean up your mess. Father’s words are “ The Rules.” Mother obeys and finds loopholes. No backtalk, defensive explanations. You are always wrong. Daddy’s words are the last sound in the room. You are at his table and you are there to be offended. If you must leave the table excuse yourself “Ask your Daddy before you go.”
Ask mother if it’s ok to ask father. If you are about to choke and can’t keep it down leave the table before you are thrown out.
“Enough of those words and ideas in this house!” If you have a problem with a family rule blame yourself. Suffer and wallow in shame. Feel guilty because you don’t add up. If you want to cry go to your room. Nobody wants to hear you. If you aren’t crying they might find something for you to cry about. Yes ma’am and no’ sir. Please and thank- you’s in unison. Sing the praises to the Lord and the dead chickens. It is life around the table. A circular chain of events The Golden Child grows up to be worthless. The Scapegoat becomes a workaholic. The Mascot involves into a addicted comedian. The Lost Child is left alone, forever. It is a frozen concept. Family rules shape you.
It’s the reason for therapy in adulthood. Southern rules on sunny days made me who I am today.