Melanie Heuiser Hill ampersand


Melanie Heuiser Hill

Melanie Heuiser Hill ampersand


Melanie Heuiser Hill

Small Tables

I have a deep an abid­ing love for large tables with lots of peo­ple squished around them eat­ing and laugh­ing and enjoy­ing each oth­er’s com­pa­ny. I love potlucks, study ses­sions with snacks, big lazy break­fasts, tra­di­tion­al and non-tra­di­tion­al hol­i­day gath­er­ings, birth­day dinners…the list goes on. In addi­tion, I adore table linens, can­dles, cen­ter­pieces, and matched as well as mis­matched sets of dish­es. And good­ness, I cer­tain­ly enjoy the food! If there’s good peo­ple and good food—and espe­cial­ly if there are nice cloth napkins—I’m very hap­py to pull up a chair.

Is it any won­der I wrote a pic­ture book about cel­e­bra­tions around the table?

These last few weeks I’ve been remind­ed that I love small­er gath­er­ings around small­er tables, as well. This last month has cer­tain­ly pro­vid­ed us with small­er table times and a par­tic­u­lar aware­ness of who and what we miss. My daugh­ter and I now take a break for after­noon tea around 3:30 each day—a love­ly new tra­di­tion and boost for flag­ging after­noon spir­its. Some­times my hus­band is home for it. Some­times we zoom oth­ers in.

It was­n’t until we hit the spring cel­e­bra­tions and reli­gious obser­vances that I grew verklempt. Our gath­er­ings, by neces­si­ty, are quite dif­fer­ent this year. When Jew­ish friends start­ed plan­ning their Passover Seders it hit me just how dif­fer­ent. Dish­es were still changed out, but not as many were need­ed at small­er tables. Nobody need­ed to store brisket in my refrig­er­a­tor. (I, a cel­e­bra­tor of East­er, have nev­er actu­al­ly bought an East­er ham since we nev­er host East­er. But we bought one this year and put it in the fridge where the brisket usu­al­ly sits. It looked like an odd inter­lop­er.) Gone were the makeshift tables that wind out of the din­ing room and into the liv­ing room to seat twen­ty or more Seder guests. The chal­lenge this year was find­ing room for the lap­top so as to zoom in loved ones. 

Some Seders were small. Some were skipped. Some were zoomed, and with more peo­ple gath­ered vir­tu­al­ly than usu­al­ly attend in per­son. I heard talk of zoom­ing Passover anoth­er year even if cir­cum­stances do not require it.

East­er brunch/lunch/dinner does­n’t car­ry the same weight as a Seder, of course. But it is a time peo­ple gath­er and pull out the stops in terms of food and table set­ting. Usu­al­ly we are at grand­par­ents for the East­er lunch after church. But this year we were home, just us three. Min­neso­ta had fair­ly heavy snow­fall all day. It was a relax­ing day. We cooked and baked, played games, took out the chi­na and sil­ver and set the table for three. The inter­lop­ing ham was easy (and tasty), the scal­loped pota­toes (new recipe) were ter­rif­ic, as was the sour­dough bread my daugh­ter made and the sal­ad and but­tered peas. The last minute pan­na cot­ta for dessert was just right. 

It was just strange to be such a small table. My daugh­ter com­ment­ed that it was “total­ly doable” to use hand-wash-only chi­na and sil­ver for just three peo­ple. And it was. Our kitchen table will seat four­teen, more if you’re will­ing to squish. I kind of like to squish. And yet it was sweet to set just one end of the table, allow­ing for games and projects to remain out on the oth­er end when it came time to eat. 

All three Abra­ham­ic faiths—Judaism, Chris­tian­i­ty, and Islam—will have their obser­vances changed this April 2020. Iftar meals, the evening meal that breaks the dai­ly fasts of Ramadan, are often large spreads at large tables with large num­bers of people…but not this year. Next week­end, all over the world, our Mus­lim sis­ters and broth­er will end each day by gath­er­ing with their near­est and dearest—those right in their home already—to feast. They’ll zoom oth­er loved ones, maybe, just as Jews and Chris­tians zoomed in pre­vi­ous weeks.

When I wrote Around The Table That Grandad Built, I want­ed it to be an ode to fam­i­ly and friends gath­er­ing and prepar­ing to cel­e­brate around a fes­tive table heavy with food, crowd­ed with loved ones of all ages. I’ve been so thrilled when­ev­er some­one tells me they read it at their fam­i­ly’s spe­cial gath­er­ing. They tell me they like the sim­ple thanks­giv­ing at the end: For these hands we hold, for tasty good food, for fam­i­ly and friends, for grace that is giv­en and love that is shared, we give thanks. These are things not to be tak­en for grant­ed, as we are all learn­ing anew dur­ing this shel­ter­ing-in-place time. And so I offer this thanks­giv­ing for small­er gath­er­ings at big or small tables this spring. 


For tables large and small…

For these hands we hold, and those we miss…

For tasty good food bring­ing joy, tend­ing health…

For fam­i­ly and friends, neigh­bors and kin…

For grace and kindness…

For love that is felt even while we are apart…

We give thanks.


Give thanks for all that is good amidst this year’s chal­lenges, wor­ries, and fears. Remem­ber those who don’t have a table…don’t have food, fam­i­ly, or friends…don’t have any­one to Zoom…or any­thing to cel­e­brate. Remem­ber all who are ill and all who care for them. Stay home, stay well. Give thanks.


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