Foot on the Dinner Table


It must have been 1989. I was a child, no more than 5 years old. We sat around the dinner table enjoying a family dinner. My mother wore her usual flowered apron and served up the food, my father (the head of the table) sat erect and upright and the two young boys (my brother and I) playfully attended the evening ceremony.

Coming from an upstanding Irish background, my father was a firm believer in table manners. He held proper etiquette and eating habits in very high esteem. His presence at the supper table was often a trifle intimidating. My brother and I, even at such a young age, had the feeling that we were keenly observed. Elbows were necessarily off the table.

Chewing was done with our mouths closed. Proper posture was enforced and an air of sophistication and dignity was to be upheld. Naturally, my younger brother and I were not All-Stars. My brother as the younger child consistently missed the mark. He was no more than 3 and was an extremely fussy eater. He was often the subject of family squabbles; his mysterious manner of shuffling vegetables around his plate instead of eating them placed my mother in an awkward middle ground. She was forced to choose sides between my picky little brother and my father.

Matters came to a head this one evening when I decided to play with my bread. There was a breadbasket full of soft buttery rolls and I decided to handle and knead the bread under the table. My father observed this. “Foot on the table,”  he proclaimed in a stern and unwavering tone.

A silence followed. Naturally, I had no idea what to do. Again came the voice. “Foot on the table”. ‘That’s not right,’ I thought, ‘This must be a test –there’s no way he would be asking for me to put my foot up on the table.’

“Foot on the table!” Ever louder, ever more insistent came the voice. As I saw it, putting one’s foot on the table was possibly the most impolite thing a person could do. Not only was it bad, it was in my mind the Cardinal Sin – the fullest and most thorough violation of all proper table manners!

“Brian, this is the last time I’m gonna ask: Foot on the table!”

I stared dumbly, playing with the buttery roll and feeling the weight of my father’s presence. Alas I had no choice left but to follow orders. I reached below my knee and swung my foot up on the table; my arched right leg and tiny foot awkwardly took its place amongst the cutlery, plates and dinner bowls . After a moment of suspenseful silence, everyone burst into laughter.

“No Brian, FOOD on the table! FOOD!”

My father apologized. I’m not sure if I laughed, cried or maybe it was a combination of both. In any case, it’s a fond family memory that we all look back on.

(photo courtesy of Hsc/