Elbows Off The Table


“If your mother serves fried combat boot, you kids will eat it.”

Thus ended any potential debate on the edibility factor of canned beets and succinctly describes the negotiation-free tone of my childhood. We were five kids who held second-class citizenship status to the ultimate authority figures: the Old Sarge and She Who Must Be Obeyed. Our self-esteem was of so little importance as to not register a tremor on their Richter Scale of parental concerns; our behavior, however, would sometimes result in seismic aftershocks. We were Lennards, after all, and expected to act that way.


“Behavior” included table manners and the art of conversation both of which were honed during the sacrosanct dinner hour, six o’clock SHARP.  Lennards are always on time. We’d flinch a bit if the phone rang during dinner. “Lennards!” my father would bark into the phone and then inform one of us to “tell your damn friends not to call during dinner.” Sound despotic? Maybe, but with the tyranny always came tenderness. Flickering in my memory is the image of my young and handsome Dad on Saturday night with three big fingers shoved into a little shoe, buffing away in prep for Sunday church. Lennards don’t wear scuffed shoes, after all.

About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
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37 Responses to Elbows Off The Table

  1. Betsy says:

    So happy to read your post again, have missed them!Love the way you write Barbara!!


  2. What a lovely memory of your father as a young man, cleaning the shoes for Sunday! My father was about fifty when I was born, but I can remember that he too undertook the shoe cleaning job with due military attention to the soles!
    I imagine that you, like me, took the attitude for granted…and recognised the love that lay behind it.

    Food was not negotiable in my parents home, nor in the grandparents’ places either.
    Paternal grandmother’s kale was never greeted with pleasure, either by us…the kids of the family when on holiday there…or by the farmhands who ate with the family…but eaten it was.

    Mother and her mother were wonderful cooks but both seemed to regard cabbage as some deadly foe which had to be subjugated by prolonged boiling until pronounced dead. But eaten it was…without demur.

    Lunch at school partook of the same attitude….you ate what had been placed on your plate…though it was usually very good food indeed. People pushing their cabbage , yes, cabbage again, aside were told that little children in India would be glad of it and the suggestion that it could be parceled up and sent there was rewarded by being sent to stand in the corner….after finishing the cabbage.

    I do wonder what ‘little chldren in India’ would have made of parcels of some of the puddings which were not great avourites with the clientele, known to us variously as Dead Baby – suet roll – Frogspawn – tapioca – and Blood and Puss – yellow blancmange with plum and apple jam popularly supposed to be World War I army surplus…

    They wouldn’t have had a chance at the treacle tart, though…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sandra says:

    Tough love, hey? Food was non-negotiable in our house too. I remember a stand-off with a plate of brussels sprouts that lasted for days. I won, but lord I was hungry. So lovely to see your posts again.


    • Dinner as stand-off, oh yes. With me it was those memorable beets but I remember dreading the appearance of Brussels sprouts too. I quite love BS now, roasted with olive oil and garlic. I do still have good table manners- a skill which leaves me in a constant state of dismay these days. “Didn’t your mother teach you not to (fill in the blank.)”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Susanne says:

    Oh happy day, Barbara is back! And with a delicious post. Don’t tell me you don’t like beets? Sigh. A favourite. You drew a great picture and I can see you all around the table, elbows tucked in, politely chatting, and obediently cleaning your plate.


  5. Eliza Waters says:

    Oh, things really were different then. Young parents today would die of shock, then recover and call DSS to report the offense! 😉


  6. dorannrule says:

    Welcome back Barbara! Bet you didn’t have t.v. dinners on trays in the living room huh?


  7. KerryCan says:

    You had silverware with your name inscribed on it?? That’s pretty neat. We weren’t military but some days it seemed like culinary boot camp around our table. Table manners were considered hugely important and we were to eat what was on our plates. I still can’t look canned peas in the eye . . .


    • Can you stand it? Second-class citizens each with their personalized silverware. Mixed messages but we always knew we were loved! I laughed out loud at your mention of canned peas. Those and those horrible cubed carrots they liked to pair with them were the stuff of nightmares.


  8. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Barbara so pleased your back blogging your wonderful posts. They say those were the GOOD OLD DAYS ! but I don’t believe that as I hated them. However, I must say that the table manners we were taught certainly stayed with me because that is exactly how I brought up my kids. Needless to say my grandchildren have not been brought up the same way, they are allowed to leave the table before everyone has finished their meal and that’s not to say to go and watch the T.V. as well. But they know when they come to visit me they abide by my rules. In my days we had to help prepare the meal and lay the table as well as wash up after and many other chores to earn our pocket money. Hope you had a great Xmas Barbara and wishing you the very best for 2018.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I smiled at these wonderful childhood memories. I too come from a military family–Navy, with a hard nosed Master Chief barking the orders. We need more of those fathers today at dinner time. Dinner time today seems to be whenever somebody arrives home. I remember helping myself from a bowl of peas at the age of 11. It caused my father to remove my plate and substitute the whole bowl of peas with an order to eat the entire thing. I, on the other hand, was his daughter, and sat the entire night in front of the full uneaten bowl which remained full in the morning, at which time I left the table and went to school. So much for lessons in table manners. It’s nice to have lived to tell the tale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had an Old Sarge and you had a Master Chief. Couldn’t agree more that we need more of those dads at dinner time. I am grateful for my negotiation-free childhood. And of course there came a time when my opinions, likes, and dislikes did matter to the parental unit but it wasn’t during childhood.


  10. Yep, I am old and no doubt stuck in the mud up to my neck, but it’s my belief the rot set in when parenting fashion decided that good manners, respect for their elders and consideration for each other was damaging to delicate little childish egos (delicate egos? Did these parents park their children with carers between the ages of 2 and 4?) and should be jettisoned in favour of total indulgence. No wonder society is a snake pit!
    Mind you, I do think respect has to go both ways. I didn’t make my kids eat/do things they genuinely found abhorrent, provided they’d given it a red hot go first.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Helen. Of course I agree with every single word of your comment. I sold real estate for many years. I had clients in an initial meeting inform me that their five-year-old, Zach, needed to “buy in” to the transfer and to the eventual decision on which house to buy. I wanted to slit my throat. Because in the end that is far too much to thrust upon a little boy (who was unbearable, by the way) and an abdication of their parental responsibilities to make the big decisions themselves.


  11. Maggie says:

    So happy to see your post! The canned beets reference brought back memories of my own family dinner table growing up.


  12. dorannrule says:

    Yes, your post brought back my own family dinners and the expectations of the elders. I love to see you back and blogging and look forward to more!


  13. Behind the Story says:

    We all have our unique ways of parenting. Strict or lenient, the essential element is love. My parents were gentle in their dinnertime rules, and yet, we always seemed to come when we were called. Maybe it was the regularity of if. We ate at about the same time every night, and Mom always served a simple, but complete dinner: meat or fish, potatoes, rice or pasta, a vegetable, and a salad–sometimes a dessert. The only thing I can remember being scolded about was talking about my Biology class. It made my dad queasy.


    • I saw something recently attributing the rise in obesity due partly to our failure to do just what your Mom did: serve a complete meal. I often whip up meals that I am convinced are infinitely quicker to get on the table than supposed “fast food” and much more nourishing.


  14. shoreacres says:

    It was lovely to see your post: particularly one that raised such warm memories for me. I don’t remember being forced to eat foods I didn’t enjoy (Brussels sprouts!) and there certainly were times when I was indulged — such as the six month period when I requested and received cold meatloaf and tomato soup for breakfast.

    But dinner always was around 6 p.m., and everyone sat down together. Good manners and conversation were expected, and no one left the table until everyone was finished. We asked for dishes to be passed with a “please,” and accepted them with a “thank you.” When the meal was finished, we helped to clear and wash the dishes before going on to other things.

    I’ve tried to remember if phone calls during dinner were an issue, and I don’t think they were, even during my high school years. Trying to think through why that would have been, it suddenly occurred to me: at 6 p.m., everyone was sitting down for dinner. It was a different age, for sure.


    • Six months of cold and meatloaf and tomato soup is bad enough but for breakfast? Ha! Can you stand the sight of either now? And I think you’re absolutely right with the observation that everyone was sitting down for dinner. Unimaginable how quickly things changed.


      • shoreacres says:

        I still love them both, and I’ll still make a meatloaf on Sunday from time to time, to use for lunches during the week. And, yes, I still like tomato soup, but I’ve moved from the standard Campbell’s cream of tomato to a tomato-basil bisque. 🙂


  15. Bwahaha – I’d be a bit curious about the taste of fried combat boots. That is too funny! A tad bit authoritarian? Must be those Germanic genes…:-)


  16. We had some funny rules too. No politics at meals, but my father would happily leave the table to grab an encyclopaedia to look something up!


  17. sherri says:

    being the youngest of five children, much of what you write rings true to my own memories

    i’m so glad to see you set the table correctly. i’m surrounded by women who do not know the fork goes on the left and it drives me crazy. (my mother is coming out in me : – )


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