Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Three Rooms and a Basement (Part 2)
There were no superfluous doors in our house. An archway, with no hung door, led from the kitchen to the enclosed back porch. Another led from the kitchen to the dining room. A large archway separated – or joined, depending on one’s perspective – the living room and dining room. The purpose of that design must have been to allow free flow of air as well as human traffic. When a furnace in the basement replaced the space heater in the living room, a 3 ft. by 3 ft. furnace register was set in the floor between the two rooms, occupying nearly half of the archway’s width and forcing traffic to use only half of the passageway. But, despite that restriction, the archway extended the living room into the dining room during large gatherings. The reverse was not as likely to occur, especially in later years when upholstered furniture and carpeting came to the living room. Food was to be eaten in the dining room or, if you were willing to stand, in the kitchen, certainly not while seated on an upholstered chair in a carpeted room.
But while the two rooms could blend at special times, and while occupants of neither could ever be unaware of events happening in the other, they did, nonetheless, each have a character and purposes of their own.
The dining room’s primary raison d'être was as a place to eat. Breakfast, dinner, and supper was served there around a large oak table. A half-dozen straight-backed oak chairs and a small table by the window completed the furnishings of the room until the 1950s when a corner cabinet and a small telephone stand were added. A single ceiling fixture lighted the room. Meals began with a prayer that always included the request that God would “bless the food to its intended use.” It was some years before I became aware that the phrase was “intended use” and not “intended juice.” Seating was fixed, unless guests were present, and even then, Mom’s and Dad’s place never varied. Mom was seated with her back to the window, Dad with his to the living room. Marvin and Istra, the two oldest children, sat on the north side of the table, and Donald and I to the south. Conversation was as much a part of the meal as was the food.
The spacious surface of the dining room table made the room the natural choice for other activities as well. Family game times occurred there, homework was almost always done there, financial conferences between Mom and Dad were conducted there. Often if a crowd of visitors exceed the seating available in the living room, the crowd would be split into two groups with one convening around the dining room table. Business deals were concluded at the table. And, of course, the famous birthday celebrations convened there.
The dining room was our family room. It was where the family most often gathered, in the early years to be sure, but even on those occasions, which became more and more rare, when we would gather again from the four winds to celebrate our Rappness.
Finally, one other use of the dining room must be noted. It was there that Mom continued her education which had been cut short before she reached the eighth grade. In the dining room she learned shorthand and typing, read history and literature and theology, wrote letters to the editor, letters to friends and family, and poems that ultimately filled a volume entitled, Redeeming the Time. The dining room was the “classroom” from which she eventually earned a high school diploma in her sixties.