How is your family breakfast table conversation? For that matter, what does your family talk about around the dinner table?
Is it lively, with everyone tossing pebbles into the conversational pool? Or is the television on with everyone facing it? If the kids have grown up and left home, what do you talk about at the table? I really want to know because R.H. and I have settled into a habit of the television being our honored guest.
At breakfast I like to flip back and forth between the network news shows while R.H. prefers cable news. At supper I'd prefer House Hunters while he'd still prefer cable news or a football game or something from the Military channel. That's why I keep a book on the table to prop up before me.
A couple of years ago I made an effort one morning to turn off the television and have good conversation at the table after reading Leslie Brenner's fascinating book, American Appetite. A Frenchman that she interviewed told her, "It's boring to dine in America--there's nothing going on. In France, they're totally inseparable, dining and talking. Why does lunch on Sunday at my parents' house go on for three hours...? Because people are talking."
Here is what I remember of our conversation after we ate silently for a few minutes, watching the birds, squirrels and chipmunks feeding outside the glass doors.
Me, in sentimental tone: "I've been reading the early 1950's diaries of that Washington D.C. man about their first trip to Florida. They took two weeks and traveled down the east coast and back up the west coast, and it just really gives the flavor of the 'old' Florida. It's so neat."
R.H., in loud furious excited tone: "I know. Damn foreigners, they ruined Florida. Blah, blah, blah..."
Me, screeching: "Stop! Stop! I was just trying to have a civilized conversation. I don't want to listen to a broken record."
R.H., sulking: "Well, we just won't talk then."
That went well, don't you think?
Of course, I know that nothing like that ever happens at your house. And if it does, we can always blame it on that monster television for destroying the American family. But did it, really? If so, why did M.F.K. Fisher write this chilling description in the May 1948 issue of House Beautiful?
"...our boulevards are lined with an infinity of bad eating houses
filled with dead-faced people placed like mute beasts in their stalls."
What? Do you really think these mute beasts went home to a good home-cooked meal, angelic children around the table and suddenly turned into Ozzie and Harriet, conversation flowing like a merrily babbling brook? Maybe so. I know that when our grown children and their spouses are here for a meal, there's rarely a pause in the conversation. I love those meals. They take ages because no one wants to leave the table and yet I know that I eat less then than when it's just me and R.H. here alone, with the television on.
Easy, you say? Simply turn off the television? We did that this morning when we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of my homemade buttermilk pancakes that you've seen the pictures of here. But then we also had the Sunday newspaper to read.
What did we talk about, though? I'm trying to remember.
Oh, yes, we talked about how wonderful the Texas red grapefruit were, that we only get them this time of the year so we had to enjoy them now and about how Kroger's had them on sale now so we needed to go back for more. Fascinating conversation.
Lest I forget, we also talked about how much we like using the old Bakelite grapefruit knives to cut through the membranes. I had to get that in so you would look in the pictures to see them.
Seriously, what do you other empty-nesters talk about at breakfast or supper? Help us out here, pretty please. A new year begins soon. I would like for 2013 to bring more conversation to our table. Fair warning, young married couples: you'll be facing this question someday. Listen in or offer your advice to us. Go ahead, don't be shy.
(Don't worry, R.H. is not only the cameraman of this blog, he reads my rough drafts too. We won't get our feelings hurt. Well, he won't anyway.)