In the mid-fifties Dad and Don lugged our round oak kitchen table out to the barn and replaced it with a shiny new Art Deco model. The decade was the era of post-war abundance. As with hemlines and cars, Americans wanted their kitchens up-to-date. Style called for bright and bold, and the table was the most prominent piece of furniture in the room.
Ours had shiny chrome legs and frame and a four-inch apron all around the edge. It was a rectangle with rounded corners. The top gleamed with a gray and white marble Formica.
The youngest of six, this was the only kitchen table I remember as I grew up on our South Dakota farm.
Besides providing a gathering place for every meal and snack, the table was the heart of activity for children and adults. Bread raised and cookies cooled on it. Mom and Dad scaled and cleaned the latest catch of fish. Garden peas plopped into bowls as we sat next to the table, and we tossed the crunchy pods into buckets awaiting under it. Young hands performed surgery on small appliances; sometimes all the pieces even fit back together.
Company came and gravitated to the table. Quietly it witnessed laughter and tears. The hub of the kitchen was a desk for paying bills and for six youngsters to do homework, sometimes all gathered around at once.
The chrome-festooned table was the home for countless activities all week long, but on Friday nights when the dishes were done, the practical kitchen table transformed like magic. It turned into the stage for our own indoor winter Olympics. Let the games begin!
With a paddle at each corner and a short green net attached to the center of the table, soon ping pong balls were flying. Occasionally we got a little vigorous and one landed in the wash sink or bounced off the curved glass of Mom’s precious china cabinet. (We held our breath.) At least once the sphere soared to the top of the hot cook stove. Sisters set speed records to save the plastic ball from a meltdown. Meanwhile, our mother sat in the next room, mostly unaware of the wild warfare in the kitchen. This was good, as we could usually talk her into picking up a paddle later in the competition.
We learned to shuffle cards at a very young age. Nothing like Slap Jack to hone focus and reaction skills. I pestered Dad until he played Old Maid. Almost always, with feigned remorse he announced to Mom, “I am the Old Maid AGAIN.” The older siblings taught us younger ones to play Rattle and Rummy, then took great pleasure in trouncing us.
Every board game of the time stood by, ready to be pulled out of the metal storage cabinet in the upstairs bathroom. Yahtzee, Skunk, Checkers, Uno, Scrabble. If Mom offered prizes, someone volunteered to call the Bingo numbers. The more cards we played, the better chance for a win, right? Corn made great markers, and if a few kernels flew off the table, we could just sweep the floor later!
Dad bought a wooden Carrom board on a farm sale. The kitchen became a mini-pool room as we mastered the art. The red and black rings zoomed across the board, occasionally into the intended mesh pockets. The most difficult shots required bouncing the shooter off the opponent’s side to knock in a ring close to your own side.
When I was four, I got a Cootie game for Christmas. Delmer, being the good sport that he was (sometimes), conceded to play. There was much eye rolling and gnashing of teeth on my brother’s part as, with the luck of the roll, I completed my bug first. He evened the score years later when our elbows rested on the table next to the Monopoly game. Somehow I always managed to go directly to jail while he accumulated houses, hotels and railroads. It was 2:00 a.m., and I was really tired. You would be tired, too, if you were suffering the same agony of defeat! But he made me stay to the bitter end, broke and dejected.
Next morning the table was turned back to its original everyday business. We poured milk on our Cheerios. “I sure had fun playing Monopoly last night,” my brother said with a satisfied smirk. Of course he did, and he had to rub it in.
I shrugged nonchalantly as if it meant nothing to me. But secretly, I was planning my game strategy. I couldn’t wait until next Friday night when the table was turned.
DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of five books, "Promises to Keep," which are available at Amazon.com.