Being a younger sibling and cousin in a large immediate and extended family had both benefits and drawbacks. Benefits included the information the older kids could provide on important topics like upper elementary and high school, fashion, swear words, and the opposite gender.
There were always plenty of people to play games with and talk to at family gatherings. Of course, I had that at home too with my 12 siblings, but it was nice to have others to mix it up.
One of the drawbacks had to do with seating arrangements at meal times. There was never enough room at one table, and the main table went to the adults and the older cousins if seats were still available. That is as it should have been. Respect for elders and patience are both good lessons.
Card tables and folding chairs were often used, as were piano seats, coffee tables, couches, and whatever else was available. We would get to load up our plates and find a spot with our cousins. Though part of me wished I could be at the “big table,” we often ended up in a room away from the adults. That could have advantages too.
We never went hungry and we were never forgotten. In fact, we usually got to go through the line first and sit down and eat before the adults, which was both practical and planned. Impatient and hungry kids fed first means we head out the door or upstairs or downstairs to play sooner. Adults left behind could eat and converse more leisurely.
Like most kids though, there was always that part of me that wanted to grow up faster so I could sit with the adults and listen to their grown-up talk.
Even at home, as my older siblings married and started their families, I was still often relegated to a spot away from the main table. Spouses and significant others took the seats the aunts and uncles would get on other occasions.
Part of me didn’t mind that. I enjoyed sitting with and helping my little nieces and nephews. But there was a wistful little Lisa in there who resented just a bit that she still didn’t get to sit at the big table.
Then I grew up and left home myself. Extended family gatherings with aunts, uncles, and cousins are rare now. My immediate family gatherings kept getting bigger and people sit wherever they fit. The younger set still gets to eat first, and includes a growing number of great-grandchildren.
Try as we might, we still usually can’t get my mom, the family matriarch, to go through the line first.
And now, there are occasions when there are seats available at that big table. I will sit there with siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews who have long been adults themselves. And there are people absent. Through death. Because of miles between. Because they are with other branches of their own growing family.
It feels different, but still sentimental. Many holidays, special gatherings, and ordinary Sunday afternoon visits have come and gone. Decades have come and gone. Tables have come and gone. But the memories live on.