This Table

Olivia Sleet considers the traditions and the changes that have taken place around her family's table.

by Olivia Sleet

Everything happens around the table.

Our family, shrinking and growing, always sits down to eat. Sometimes it’s just two now, eating alone in a funny kind of requiem for a life gone by, a life of fussy eaters and teenage daughters long since moved out. Sometimes, it’s everyone, plus partners, piled back home to set the world to rights. But the table remains.

Fish on Good Friday, stew on Christmas Eve, turkey at Easter – our table traditions are punctured by food, dictated by a calendar only half adhered to these days. Nevertheless, these traditions are the skeleton we hang our year on; Mum, I’ll be home for Christmas.

The table has seen crises and celebrations, holding court on the most ferocious of arguments or funniest of anecdotes. It was around this table that we fathomed Maths homework together, parents as stumped by long division as children. It was around this table that we planned weddings, constructing intricate party favours for a marriage that wasn’t to be. It was around this table that we all realised the severity of my grandmother’s dementia, as she set fire to the tablecloth. It was around this table that my mother told us she had cancer.

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But this was also the table where she presented us with Aladdin on VHS as a treat; where my sister and I set up ‘refreshments’ for the interval of our improvised theatre productions, and where endless nights have been whiled away, Christmases celebrated into the dimming evening, passing on to us the tradition of storytelling that I’ll treasure forever. It was around this table that we had all kinds of interlopers for dinner, from lonely ladies-down-the-road to wayward friends, missionary priests and temporary boyfriends.

The table has since been upgraded for a modern version that can seat three as well as eight. We’ve all changed so, growing up and away, no longer the gangly children that carved their initials into the legs with a compass. But every so often, we all return. We always will.


Olivia Sleet | @oliviasleet

Olivia Sleet is a writer, reader and roll neck enthusiast. She lives in London, eating gingerbread whilst trying to look like Pattie Boyd and write like Donna Tartt.

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