The time was the 1950s, give or take a few years. America was in a secure place as a world power and we children were assured that hiding under our school desks would keep us safe during a nuclear attack. All was well with our world, and our families reveled in their togetherness after the ravages of World War II.
Grandma's dining room table became the "hot spot" for gatherings of several generations. It was to become a place of learning that could never be re-created in a textbook. My elders would tell of the Great Depression, the hunger and want and the hope of better days to come. They recalled the desperation of cold, cold winters, digging through the snow along the railroad tracks for coal that may have fallen off of a coal car. Ice clung to the baseboards of the house until the morning fire was lit in the kitchen's wood stove.
As a young child, I couldn't understand what was so "Great" about the Depression.
We sat mesmerized as world wars became "real" and we listened to stories of battles on European soils and the islands of the Pacific. Grandpa used to tell of the nights sitting around the radio listening to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats and dreading the sound of a "knock at the door" that could bring news of a loved one's death in a land thousands of miles away.
Dad used to say "children should be seen and not heard" and "use your ears not your mouth; you may learn something." How right he was. I was once given an assignment to write an essay about World War II and I aced it.
After we had enjoyed a Sunday meal together, listened to tales of the past and discussed current events, we would move to the living room and watch "The Ed Sullivan Show" on television. Dancing dogs, acrobats, magicians, comedians -- Ed had them all. Those comedians kept their routines free of vulgarity and all ages would laugh at their antics. We enjoyed them in our innocence, unaware that someday this fairly new media form would turn sour and allow violence, cursing and human degradation to become a form of entertainment for our children and grandchildren.
I don't know what happened to that sturdy old mahogany table where we learned love of God, country and our fellow man. It may have become a fort covered with old blankets or perhaps used in a basement to fold laundry, but that memory of mother's family dining room table is a treasure.
Dad's family had a great table as well. That family related stories of life in Alden, a great-grandfather who was the lone blacksmith in that small village and the great-aunt who rang the fire bell. They talked of leaving Ireland during the potato famine, and of the Huguenot ancestors who ventured to this wondrous new land in search of religious freedom. A son was lost at Gettysburg and Iwo Jima claimed a life as well. Most assuredly these tales are worth repeating and hearing.
Oh, that dining room table! Let it once again come alive with stories of life as we lived it. We would be wise to encourage today's children to join the family and sit quietly around a table, with headphones removed and cell phones silent. Perhaps the stories told by parents and grandparents could then be accepted and cherished and one day become a memory. Perhaps.
Donna Murawski, of Lancaster, is a retired teacher's aide who worked at Lancaster High School.