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Laying the table

January 6, 2014

Mother, hot and dishevelled cleared a space on the dining room table and placed a steaming pot of stew carefully in the middle. I had been told to lay the table, hurriedly my comics and books were put on a coffee table nearby.
The stew had been added to and reheated from the day before. Tuesday – was family allowance day when my mother would buy fresh meat – scrag end of neck and swede. To make a stew that would last until payday –with luck.
I was gathering utensils from the side board trying hard to remember my right from left as I placed them on the table. Teresa was distributing – bowls and plates. Our concentration was immense. The boy not yet fully weaned would have a tiny bowl. Nicki not yet started school would have just a bowl, father and mother a larger willow pattern soup plate with a wide lip for stew and bread to dunk. She placed tea cups, a bottle of milk and the sugar bag leaving a little space for the tea pot to come later. Teresa and I having been to school and had dinner would only require ‘tea’ of bread and cake. The dining table was a buzz – food and bodies coming and going.
The bread had been cut into healthy chunks and the angel cake sliced carefully into five pieces –the boy did not get cake yet!
We assembled, the girls seated at the table. My mother came from the kitchen with a pot of tea and placed it on the table. Turning, she removed her apron and shoes and slipped her feet into her slippers warming by the grate. She added some wood to the fire and poked the dying embers. She picked up the baby boy and took her seat at the head of table and put baby to her breast.
The cat leapt from its place of safety on the window sill to the warm place on the settee vacated by the baby. The dog that had been curled by the rocking chair stood up, stretched and went to the kitchen to look for the neck bones now removed from the stew.
My father came from his work shop, went to the toilet and heard the pump groan as he ‘flushed’ then washed his hands in the kitchen sink. Coming into the dining room he picked up a magazine from the coffee table and propped it against the pot of stew. My mother had already served him a portion with rather more meat. He was clearly in a mood – he didn’t usually read at the table  … apart from the baby gurgles the only sound was the clock and the purr of the tilly lamp.
My father took his spoon and blowing his food, reached from behind the paper to take a piece of bread. Instead he took some angel cake. My mother did not notice as she helped my little sister eat her soup and prepare a little pap for the boy. Teresa was distracted by the dog who had wandered back to get scraps from under the table. I held my breath and bit my lip – he hadn’t noticed, in fact he reached again for some more bread. I needed to be nippy, I wanted cake! I quickly swopped the plates so that he took bread. Relieved, I continued to eat my paste sandwich and prepared to pour the tea.

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