I wish I had a photograph, or better yet, a video clip of our dinners at the kitchen table growing up with 7 people.
This table, at best, measured 4.5 x 3 feet. It had four chairs, one at each of the heads, and 2 on the open side. The wall side had a bench, custom made by my grandfather.
Being one of the more neurotic, or "OCD" members, I insisted on sitting in the same spot, every night. This was on the open side, next to my mother. Despite this being a well-known fact amongst the family, nearly every night, someone attempted to sit in this seat (usually Brennan), thus opening the meal with an argument. Not surprisingly, I always won the spot.
No one ever tried to sit in our parent's spots.
Eventually, we all got settled. Poor, middle-child, peacemaker Leah on the bench, separating the 2 boys. Always in the role of referee, and despite, obviously occupying THE WORST seating assignment, always willing to do so, without complaint.
Annora sat to my right. Due to the dimensions of this table, she would frequently get upset and frustrated with me "elbowing" her as we ate. I'm right handed! Sometimes your elbow has to jut out to cut the food or load the spoon. Or, sometimes, I would purposefully stick my elbow out as far as it would go. Sometimes this would aggravate her to the point of leaving the table. Mission accomplished. Or, I mean, sorry?
My father would always wait for us all to fill our plates, before he served himself. Sometimes, if the quantity of food appeared questionable (which was extremely rare) he would wait for us all to have our seconds. In this case, he could usually rely on Brennan to over serve himself quite generously, and would have a full portion in the form of Brennan's leftovers. For some reason, my mother's mantra "You can always get more" never registered with that boy. Worst case, my father ended up with a bag of potato chips and beer for dinner. I don't know, maybe that was his "best case" and motive all along.
My mother would never get her own glass of water. Being seated nearest her, and being the cleaner option (over Timothy) she would just drink mine. Really, most of us didn't get a drink. We would all sit, patiently waiting, eyeing our siblings, hoping someone else would give in first. Inevitably, Annora or I would do it, and then the requests come pouring in (pun intended), "While you're up..." Ugh! 7 glasses of water later, I'm seated again to eat.
My youngest brother harbored the least diverse palate of us all. If my mom happened to prepare any green vegetables for dinner, we had guaranteed dinner time entertainment and drama. Well, drama was always a guarantee.
I remember one, specific incident with broccoli. Timothy was not allowed up from the table until he ate one, single bite. We had all finished, were up playing, watching TV. Every so often I'd walk back through the kitchen and find him still sitting, alone, on that bench, with the broccoli on his plate. I remember coaxing him to do it. Reassuring him he will not die. He finally put that bite in his mouth, by this time, most of us were back in the kitchen to witness the mastication. Or is the word massacre? Because you probably couldn't tell the difference. He screamed, cried, threw his head back, hit it on the wall, cried some more, drooled. I laughed. We all laughed. He got up from the table.
For all 7 of us to remain seated for the entirety of the meal rivaled the lunar eclipse in frequency. Whether the departure was optional or forced, it was usually done so with tears, laughter, and anger...by one or more family members. Annora and Brennan being the most frequent offenders, Annora leaving in anger, Brennan being expelled. He thought it funny to belch or fart REALLY loud at the table...the bench providing a lot of amplification. My parents didn't share his humor.
The phone, which hung on the wall in the pantry, could ring, but under no circumstances could be answered during dinner.
The dogs were not to be fed. Supposedly. Everyone still did it. Including mom and dad. In fact, they were the worst.
Technically, to get up, you were to ask, "May I please be excused."
I liked to linger. My father and I were usually the last to leave. Maybe it's because, we were both still secretly hungry. Maybe it's because we enjoyed the quiet moment before the bedtime routine.
The number of people, table size, arrangement and frequency of these dinners has changed over the years. The mood, ambiance, atmosphere has not. Likely never will.