Writing Catalog

Caitlyn Hartzell

Grade: 12

Bay Village High School

Instructor: Erin Beirne

Around the Dinner Table

Personal Essay & Memoir

Around the Dinner Table

The dark wooden table is covered with placemats, plates and delicious food: plates full to the brim, despite my protests, bowls with colorful salad and glasses of milk. Annie loves the scraps though. She takes her place underneath my messy brother, white and black hidden between table and human legs. I am standing on top of my booster-esque chair, shaking my hips and waving my arms, on a mission avoiding my dinner of koos koos and chicken. The walls are olive green, a color my mom does not enjoy. She swears she's going to paint over it one day. Behind me is a shelf with space taken up by summer camp clay pieces and photographs. My mom warns me to watch out for the shelf— we can't break any of our special things. Soon, my brother and sister stand to dance with me, my sister, Ali, doing this weird arm waving dance move and my brother, Jason, moving his head between his arms. His head is a little too big for his still growing arms—- he can just barely connect them atop his head. We laugh and laugh, which causes my parents to laugh along, too; they can't help it even though they just want us to finish our dinner. Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift take over the surround sound and our little voices singing accompanies our dance moves. Finally, after much laughing and playful scolding, My Dad threatens the banished little table, where you are forced to eat dinner alone and long for your former seat at the big table.

Snow falls slowly outside the glass door, visible from the dining room. Fabric and scissors are splayed across the wooden table. My sister's and my little arms begin to work tying the fabric while my mom cuts. We are creating felt blankets to donate in exchange for long awaited Disney World tickets. Ali and I loved the Disney princesses and characters, and ever since we've heard about Disney World, we have been begging to go. We continue our work while the scent of brownies and pasta cooking wafts in. Our stomachs grumble, but we know we have to finish these blankets today. My brother, being much too young to understand, and who was incapable of double knotting the felt, watched intently from his highchair. When we finally finished, all there was left to do was to eagerly wait and see if we would win the tickets.

The walls surrounding the all familiar table are now a smooth shade of gray, and the cabinet now has swim team, lacrosse, and band photos displayed along with silly old clay projects. Outside, the sky is cloudy and the air is cold. My dog, Journey, isn't bothered by it though. Through the glass sliding door, we can see him bounding around the backyard, chasing squirrels. My family is crowding over the table, desperately grabbing colorful, misshapen pieces and shoving them into the correct spot. The puzzle we had been working on is almost done, the race to the final piece is the best part. The picture of the Chicago skyline appears on the table, and my head hurts from staring at it for so long. But the mission to the last piece is more important. We are laughing and yelling at each other to get out of the way. Finally, we reach the final piece. We look all over. The gray carpet on the floor, the box and drawers filled with placemats, but it's nowhere to be found. When the defeat begins to settle in, Jason smiles widely and takes the piece out of his pocket. My parents laugh, but Ali and I were left standing with arms crossed and eyes rolling. He put the last piece into place, and we finally finished!

Outside, the world is dark, except for our back porch light illuminating the snow falling gently to the ground. Inside, it is loud and bright. The Christmas lights and the fire brighten the room. Around the table, which has two additional tables connected because one just isn't enough, we all stand Journey is running around with his tail wagging wildly. We take our spots around the table, each with our three dollars in hand. The glass on the table clinks when the dice roll. My brother and his friends have a truce like they do every year. They split the money if one of them wins, but none of them ever do. LCR! We all yell when the dice correspond. Faces flushed and hands moving, the game is quick paced and a tradition we do every year. The game begins, and everyone has hope that this is their chance. But, as the game continues, that hope soon disappears. Ali and our friend's mom. The final two. We watch with anticipation as the dice rolls. Ali raises her arms in triumph and waits for the rest of us to shower her in the money she just won. When the game is over, we realize it's gone on a little longer than we thought, and it's almost midnight!

Notebooks and pencils are splayed across the whole surface area of the dining room table. Jason is there all day, hands propping up his sleepy face as the voice of his teacher fills the room. My sister and I come downstairs and wave our arms in the background, laughing silently until our stomachs hurt. Eventually, we get a scary look from our mom and have to retreat to our own home classrooms. At the end of the school day, all while still in our pajamas, all five of us return downstairs to eat dinner. We clear the glass covered surface of its many contents, a result of at home school. My Dad would then ask his favorite question about the highs and lows of our days, laughing because we all just lived the same day together in the midst of the pandemic.

A strong scent of sizzling steak and baking potatoes fills the room. Asparagus and salad are already on the table and we are just waiting for the final pieces. Ali chose the dinner and received no complaints from any family members. Steak and potatoes, an unbeaten combination, is one of the rare meals my entire family wholeheartedly loves, a result of my brother's crazy pickiness. We gathered around the table, voices loud and excited, chattering about Ali's future. College and classes were the hot topic of conversation. I eagerly listened, knowing that this time next year we would be having the same conversation about me! The next day Ali would be leaving and the dinner table would be left with one empty seat. The feeling was bittersweet, a mix of sadness and excitement for what the future would bring. I promised Ali that until she returned, her seat would remain waiting and untouched by my brother and me.

My favorite and most comforting thought about our dining room is that although the walls change, the photos change and the lights change, the table is always there. The table that we danced on, ate on, and played games on is always a constant in my life. I love to relive the memories I had around this table, each one more enjoyable than the last. It's in almost every birthday photo and Christmas day dinners. I love seeing my family and friends gathered around together. Now that we are all grown, and the little table is no longer a threat when voices get too loud, the table is a place for remembering old memories and creating new ones.