Life in Community

Literature for Lunch

The Benefit of the Common Table

January 26, 2021 by

Recently I overheard my neighbors arguing about reopening our dining room for communal meals. Not only has COVID suspended our open Saturday dinners; we don’t even have lunch together anymore. “Let me just say I am thankful for home lunch, OK?” said one mother. “What?” cried the other, genuinely shocked, “We need communal lunch again! We need it.”

“Absolutely,” my dad agreed.

There are certainly two sides to this argument. I can sympathize with the mother who is thankful for the break from communal lunch. She has two small kids with strong characters and communal lunch is nothing like a standard cafeteria. We wait to begin the meal until everyone has arrived. Don’t be embarrassed if you’re late and everyone is sitting in silence. We just don’t want to start without you. Then we will begin by singing a song together and someone will say grace into a microphone. After that, if you’re lucky, the guy with the microphone might read a story.

EEmbed2Lunch at Fox Hill, a Bruderhof in Walden, New York. 2014.

Every community and every lunch is different; reading out loud is not always a feature. My dad, for instance, has often improvised his own stories rather than reading. As a kid I was so proud of the way he could keep me and my friends captivated. His storytelling style is heavily based on cadence, accent, and tone. In other words, the sounds make the story. Sometimes he is yelling, and sometimes he is hoarse and creepy.

My dad’s brother is also a storyteller, but in communal settings he often reads classic literature. In contrast to my dad, he can maintain a smooth and soothing voice while stunningly declaiming powerful scenes in the books he reads. I remember one lunchtime eating my cheesy pinwheels as Uncle Joe read the prayer of Penny Baxter at Fodder-Wings’s funeral in The Yearling

“…Now you’ve done seed fit to take him where bein’ crookedy in mind or limb don’t matter. But Lord, hit pleasures us to think now you’ve done straightened out them legs and that pore bent back and them hands…And Lord, give him a few red-birds and mebbe a squirrel and a ’coon and a ’possum to keep him comp’ny, like he had here. All of us is somehow lonesome, and we know he’ll not be lonesome, do he have them leetle wild things around him, if it ain’t askin’ too much to put a few varmints in Heaven...” (Majorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling, p. 200)

Everyone was eating as he read, forks tapping on plastic plates. Suddenly a loud quavering voice interrupted Uncle Joe: “Can’t you all just be quiet for one minute?” Donna, my favorite librarian was weeping silently with her glasses off and her handkerchief under her eyes, shocked that everyone could just keep on eating during Fodder Wing’s funeral.

Certainly communal lunches are the times that try parents’ souls. I was in first grade when I began to wonder what would happen if I dropped one of the glass cups we all had by our plates. “What would happen” is a broad statement involving how people around me might respond as well as what would happen to the cup. I decided not to spend too much time thinking about it. I went ahead and found out. It was incredible and so worthwhile; the cup smashed into glass dust – a million pieces. I was thrilled for almost a full minute. That was one of the few times I had an answer when people asked me, “Why did you do it?” (Although, maybe not an answer that pleased my parents.)

EEmbed1A communal meal at New Meadow Run, a Bruderhof in Farmington, Pennsylvania. Photo by Darius Clement, 2016.

Although some parents may find lunch exhausting and kids may find it boring, (or conversely, so exciting that they forget to eat), communal lunch should be more than ticking a box on our to-do list. We have given our lives to sharing everything, including our food. Foundations of our Faith and Calling, a book that describes Bruderhof beliefs, has a section about “the common table.” It mentions celebration, joy, and thanksgiving. And there is the symbolic preparation for God’s coming kingdom, which will also be a feast “to which the whole world is invited.” So one happy day when everyone is vaccinated, we would love to invite you to share a meal with us. We advertise open Saturday dinners but lunch is also an option. It might seem like a hassle at first, but wait till you hear the story.

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About the author

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling lives and works at the Platte Clove Bruderhof.

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