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The Table Commandments
When I was growing up there were two places where foolishment was forbidden: Sunday Services and the supper table. I suppose the world had gotten too big and too wild for my grandpa so he carved out a single hour in the only place he could rule as undisputed king. The house he had built with his own two, calloused hands.
He was not a tyrant, but the supper table was to be his courtyard of serenity or else. So his edicts went beyond the usual customs like “clean your plate” and “If you spoon it, you eat it.” He had more precepts than Moses and they were every bit as inflexible as the laws of the Medes and Persians. And since his power to enforce them seemed to derive directly from the fact that he had hammered the kitchen together himself, every statute was prefaced by the same preamble– “in this house.”
Thus the legislation ran: “In this house we do not complain about the menu;” “In this house we do not sing ‘Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On’ at the table;” “In this house we don’t sneak fistfuls of fried okra during the blessing;” “In this house we don’t come to the table bare chested in nothing but our drawertails.” And so it went, world without end, Amen.
Sometime ago I thought it would be fun to collect some of his various and sundry regulations and write them down in the style of Moses himself. I then read them to my Granddaddy on his birthday. He was amused, but as I suspected, he would have the last word. “In this house we love a good joke–but not at the supper table.”
The Table Commandments
Of laws pertaining to eating and drinking, and of downsitting and uprising.
When thou comest to the table, gird up thy loins. Let thy thighs be covered in garments of cotton or linen, and let thy chest be likewise adorned. For thy nakedness is an abomination to me. And wearest deodorant under thine arms, for they are malodorous as though full of dead men’s bones.
When thou sittest in thy chair, thou must sit all the way down upon thy chair, even upon thy buttocks. Thou shouldst not rest thy hinder parts upon one calf or the other, yea, both feet shall be upon the floor which I have made.
This day I also command thee to keep both feet upon my floor until supper is ended. Neither raise up thy knees, nor place thy feet upon the table. For that is an abomination to me. Yea, even when thou hast an interesting growth upon thy toes, they shouldst approach neither the biscuits nor the mashed potatoes.
When thou hast received thy portion of sweet tea, drink it prudently. Thou shouldst not fill thy belly with tea so thou canst not clean thy plate. For thou art not that thirsty.
When thou hast supped to the last morsel, thou mayest drink deeply from thine cup. But then let thine empty cup remain still upon the table. Thou mayest not bite thine cup upon its edge, nor hold it to thy face in order to make noises which soundeth like a duck. For thou wilt be cast away from my presence.
I charge thee, O my son, chew thy food and do not swallow it whole lest thou choke. When thou chewest, do so quietly and with thy mouth closed. Do not talk with thine mouth full of peas. Open not thy mouth to show thy food unto thy brother, neither show it unto thy sister. For they are corruptible and will go and do likewise. If they have shown the food of their mouths unto thee, do not return evil for evil. Keep thy mouth closed and tattle not. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, I am not in the mood.
When thou sittest down to eat thy food, eat thy food only, and not from another’s plate. Likewise, thou mayest not eat that which is not food. Do not seize the table between thy jaws, nor use the tablecloth to wipe thy lips.
Thou shalt not take up the carrots and draw figures upon the table, for that is not what they are for and we do not do that in this house. Likewise, thou shalt not take up the broccoli florets to build a forest upon thy plate, though trees they do resemble, for that is not what they are for and we do not do that in this house.
Sit, thou, as I have told you, and lean not to the left nor to the right. Neither slide down upon thy chair until thou art all but slid away. Take heed; for if thou shouldst sit like that, thy hair will go into the gravy and my wrath will be greatly kindled. And now, behold! It has come to pass just as I foretold! Get thee away from my presence, wash thy hair, and go thyself to bed!
Of laws pertaining to dessert
When thou desirest a piece of pie, ask me and I will tell thee whether it is lawful. For I wilt judge fairly, between the plate that is clean and the one that is unclean. For if the plate be clean, I will say unto thee, thou mayest have thy dessert. But if the plate be unclean, the laws are these: If thou wilt eat most of thine meat and two bites of thy peas, eaten where I can see, and enough of thy potatoes to fill two forks full, thou mayest have dessert. But if thou eatest only one bite of peas and one one fork full of potatoes, thou shalt have no dessert, not even a small portion thereof. If thou dost undertake to spread thy peas and potatoes around on thy plate so as to make it appear that thou hast eaten them, when in fact thou hast not eaten them, then thou has fallen into iniquity, and shall have no dessert.
Of laws pertaining to the boundaries of food
Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of the fouls of the air, and of all the foods that are acceptable in my sight you may freely eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animal which cheweth its cud, carved into steaks or ground into burgers, thou mayest eat–but not in the living room. Indeed, of every type of food thou mayest fill thy belly; of oats, and grains, and wheat, and even factory rendered delicacies of unknown provenance thou mayest enjoy to thy heart’s content, but never in the living room. When thou reachest the place where the dining room ends and the living room begins, thou mayest not even think about it. For crumbs on the couch are an abomination to me.
But if thou art sick with an ache in thy tummy and art in no wise malingering, and art lying down watching boring daytime television as evidence of thine illness, thou mayest eat chicken noodle soup with saltines and thou mayest drink a little Sprite for thy stomach’s sake.
*thanks to Ian Frazier for the inspiration.