When it came to Thanksgiving holidays and other events that called for family — which could include grandparents and aunts and uncles — gathering around the dining room table for dinner, the boomer kids of the families were relegated to what was referred to as “the kids’ table.” It was often a secondary table from the household, which could be smaller and also not as tall as the dining room table. While the grown-ups sat at the “big” table, the mom of the house, or a helpful aunt (but never the father or uncle!) would serve the kids at the table.
Mister Boomer has heard this tradition lives on to this day, but there have been changes, not the least of which is predicated by family size. After the War the Boomer Generation began in earnest. Young couples were optimistic for the future and had children right away. Birth control in the form of the Pill was still 19 years away from being introduced when the first boomers were born in 1946, so a perfect storm of new families was bound to occur. By 1960 nearly half the families in the U.S. had children under the age of 18, and the average family had two children. In Mister B’s experience, families he knew had at least three and more typically four or more children, rather than the national average of the time.
Combine the children in extended families, and the math certainly presented a dilemma in seating when hosting the family holiday celebrations. In this light, the kids’ table seems a logical solution to the problem.
Yet by the time we reached the age of 10 or 12, many of us would complain about being seated with much younger siblings and cousins. There was no hard-fast rule for when a child might move up to the “big” table, but by our early teens it would appear most had found accommodation with the grown-ups. Naturally, a spot needed to be available, whether by cramming in another place setting or fewer adults being present.
In Mister Boomer’s household, the kids’ table and accompanying chairs was a folding card table set that his mother had acquired with trading stamps. The folding chairs and table were stored in their original boxes in the basement until such time as they were needed. When still more seating was required, a folding aluminum table was used, both of which stretched out from the dining room into the living room. The aluminum table was generally used for young teens, as it was not as steady as the folding table, and could seat another six or eight, while the card table’s limit was four.
Kids were expected to sit and enjoy their meals, which they did. Dishes were brought to them and cleared away afterward, lest young sleeves find their way into the leftovers. Occasionally discipline was required for an uncooperative individual, in the form of a quick butt-swat by a parent. For the most part, though, kids stayed in place, and always said their “please and thank you’s.”
Mister Boomer has few specific memories about sitting at the kids’ table, but recalls doing so in his own house and also at the houses of aunts and uncles when the family was invited for holiday dinners. He does remember thinking at one time, whether being seated at the kids’ table afforded full access to all of the food that the grown-ups were eating. Mister B enjoyed a holiday feast, and didn’t like the idea that he wouldn’t be entitled to the complete menu. He also enjoyed a good turkey leg, and wasn’t above asking for one at home, but was too polite to ask when visiting.
Mister B can only wonder what a group of today’s kids might think of such a scene as the kids’ table back in our boomer youth days. If we could borrow Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and transport them back to 1960, we could, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, show them how the children, dressed in their holiday best — boys in white shirts and dress pants, girls in dresses — were sitting relatively patiently at the kids’ table, not a cell phone, tablet or video game in sight. Would they think it was a form of punishment? torture? or just primitive, as compared to the more casual atmosphere of today’s kids’ table?
Moms were home more often in the boomer youth days, but Mister Boomer didn’t know any who were crafty. In Mister B’s neighborhood, there might be a main table centerpiece of fruit or flowers, but that’s about it. The china (purchased week-by-week at the A & P) sat otherwise unadorned by raffia-tied napkins or woven table runners, while the kids’ table had less formal dishware, but not plastic utensils and paper plates.
Do you have fond or not-so-fond memories of the kids’ table, boomers?