What Happens At Your Table?

In my mind, there is an ideal family meal. The details aren’t detailed and clear, but I always hope a nice family meal will build or strengthen or heal–that during our time together, our conversation will bring us closer. Is it the same for you? Do you plan, shop, and cook with the hopes that something truly special and memorable will happen when everyone sits down to eat? Does it, at least sometimes, happen for you?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about family meals, mine and the ideal (which are not always the same). I’ve been thinking, not just about Thanksgiving, but everyday meals too. It’s on my mind because we are in Texas this Thanksgiving, helping our son and his family move. I don’t know yet what we’ll do for that important meal, but I’m excited to spend it with this family that we will see less often–and have around our table less often, now that they will be living at such distance.

But our indefinite plans for Thanksgiving made me think about family meals, why they are important to me and what I always hope happens at our family meals. And that made me remember some movie family meal scenes that I love. And for some reason, I do love a good family meal scene.

SANDRA BULLOCK, WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, 1995 - Stock Image

I’ll share a few examples. In “While You Were Sleeping” Peter’s family gathers for a ‘late’ Christmas dinner. The cross talk, the family shorthand, the teasing, good-natured arguing, prying–the love–it’s all there. I love it. “These potatoes are so creamy . . . Mary mashed them.” And “Would you want to see Dustin Hoffman save the Alamo?” No one is really listening to each other, but the important things get communicated.

Another meal scene I think is a masterpiece is the breakfast scene at the end of “Moonstruck.” In fact, I watch the whole movie and then I rewind and watch the breakfast scene again. I love the moments when no one is speaking, but everyone is looking at each other. Their looks say it all. “What is going on? Can you believe this? What now? Does he/she know? Secrets, betrayal, accusation, forgiveness, broken engagement, proposal, but most of all love.

Moonstruck High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy

My appreciation for these scenes is a paradox. I love them because they feel familiar and real, and I love them because they are not like anything I’ve experienced, and they are hilarious. I know a screenwriter wrote those scenes, a director and the actors interpreted. Someone lit them; someone filmed, and many more people had a part in the creation of those few moments that invite us into the intimacy of someone else’s family meal.

I’d like to have y’all come and share a family meal with me. Impossible I know, but I would love it. And I’d love a family meal scene in more books that I read. Is it possible to write one that captures the idiosyncrasies and rhythms and unique language of a family? Have you read a book with an engaging family meal scene? If you have, I want the title/author. And I’d love to read your experience around your table.

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