When I was a child we had a number of very specific family rituals that had been there for as long as I can remember. These odd foibles were either top-secret and limited only to those in the know or they were so innocuous that those outside the family might not even spot them. The most significant of these was possibly the one involving knives and forks.
At mealtimes, whether taken at the table or on trays in the living room, each of us, mam, dad and me, had a completely different knife and fork unique to us. Dads was a proper old-fashioned ‘Sheffield’ steel and bone handled knife and fork that was probably getting on a bit. Mams, on the other hand, was a much smaller stainless-steel combo with an intertwined flower pattern on the handles. Mine, also stainless-steel, were plain and shiny.
We even had ‘guest’ knives and forks on the occasions anyone else turned up for tea but they were part of an all identical set of cutlery; and if ever anyone not familiar with this little quirk set out the table for a meal and got the cutlery layout wrong one of us was bound to quickly jump up and correct it before eating began.
I know, and knew at the time, that other families had their own little foibles and funny way of doing things too and I think as a child I accepted these very personal differences at face value but also with a recognition that it was something that bound different families together and gave them their shared identities. I see now a great deal of importance in the continuity that these kind of childhood rituals provide and I marvel at the fact that for us they continued so long. Even when my parents were in their late-seventies this ritual was repeated whenever I was ‘home’ for dinner.
I often wonder if this is why I feel very uneasy about the standardisation of life outside the family group. Just the other day, for example, I remarked how in yet another shopping mall in some small town on my travels all the shops and food stores were of well-known and familiar brands. Perhaps the uniqueness of family rituals is an antidote to that, both then and now.
I have no idea what happened to Mam and Dads knife and fork set after I cleared their house out some years ago but I know exactly where mine are. I don’t eat with them anymore because the neck of my old fork is so thin that the head may snap off any day but they both have a pride of place on one of my bookshelves and every time I spy them it brings a smile to my face.
WHAT DO YOU THINK – What were your family rituals as a child? Have any of those continued into adult life or with your own family? How did these make you feel at the time? What rituals do you still have now?