Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Kitchen Table ©

Bill Longworth, April 23, 2008

It was an evening sometime in the spring of 1971 when we all gathered at my invitation for a fancy dinner at Ed’s Warehouse in Downtown Toronto’s Theatre District.

Maybe it’s stretching the truth a bit to make this claim of a family dinner.

It’s hard remembering all those who attended. Sometimes the mind distorts the truth. It plays tricks causing the recall of events as you wanted them to happen rather than how they happened.

But one thing is sure. My maternal grandparents were there. This was the first and only time that I recall that anyone from my immediate family ever hosted them for dinner. They were patriarchs of the family, and if they were there, that was the only thing that mattered.

As I recall, many others on my mother’s side attended although there was no one from my father’s side, nor were they invited.

Let me explain!

The values and lifestyle of the families of each of my parents was a study in contrasts. Any gathering of them together would have been like having a dinner of caviar and carp, champagne and beer, cultured blessings and blasting expletives. Their worlds were so different, it’s doubtful that they ever set eyes on each other, or said, “hello,” never mind engaging in friendly pleasantries at the same table.

This difference in the background of my parents led to early family breakdown in the 40’s and made one brother and my sister and I wards of the Children’s Aid. This was not helpful to us in developing a sense of family. After we were retrieved from custodial care, we did gravitate a bit to my mother’s family rather than my father’s, losing complete touch with all of them.

Compounding the difficulties, were our living conditions which resulted in us feeling a little disconnected from our extended families. We were the “poor” cousins, a single-mother family of five who lived in a single room in downtown Toronto in houses where each room hosted a different family. This did make the single washroom in the houses a little busy…and worse. This living condition certainly separated us from our more prosperous relatives on both sides and undoubtedly contributed to our growing divide.

In our single room, conversation at the kitchen table was a little difficult as there was no kitchen…and no kitchen table.

Despite our childhood poverty and hardships, it's unbelievable that my brother and myself and our children are the only members of our parent’s extended families even to this day to acquire university educations.

By the time of that 1971 dinner, I was a school vice principal and well on my way to a successful career. I could well afford to host my extended family at the fancy dinner.

That dinner finally gave me a chance for a significant event around a dinner table. I announced my impending marriage and introduced my future wife and her mother to my mother’s family. It wasn’t our kitchen table, but it was a dinner table gathering for a memorable event…and my grandparents were there!

Joan and I were married months later on August 10, 1971, in a simple ceremony at Toronto City Hall in the presence of our mothers. This led to a wonderful, stable and lasting relationship resulting in the birth of three daughters, the first on August 29, 1972.

I finally got the family kitchen and the kitchen table and the family to enjoy conversations around our kitchen table.

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