Table napkins pull us together

October 8, 2020


family meal time is important - Leslie Anne Tarabella

The sale of paper table napkins is on the decline, due in part to people not sitting down at a table to eat a meal. Millennials in particular feel that paper towels are just as good and a faster option to dabbing the corners of their crumbly sticky mouths.

family meal time is important - Leslie Anne Tarabella

When I read this breaking napkin news, my brain did that screeching, sliding sideways thing that the General Lee did on the Dukes of Hazard because this is what I’ve been preaching about for years. Sitting down to eat a proper meal whether you are alone or with a group is one of the basic building blocks of a civil society. I can tolerate the pandemic, social unrest and nasty politics, but the demise of the family meal makes me want to march on Washington D.C. 

family meal time is important - Leslie Anne Tarabella - blue and white Liberty Blue China

Eating a proper meal at a proper table isn’t fancy or only for the elite. Families of all economic and social classes used to eat together every day. Whether there was a savory roast beef or watery soup on the table, children all grew up knowing how to sit, put a napkin in their lap and have civil conversation. They also knew how to set the table and wash the dishes. 

The thing I loved most in my great-grandparent’s house, where I’d visit for reunions, was their kitchen table. Large enough for their 13 children, plus the preacher on Sunday, it was the longest table I’d ever seen. The chairs were mismatched but somehow seemed unified and I’d drag my finger around the edge of the table as I walked around, trying to imagine my grandfather eating there as a teenager.  Filled with animated conversation, laughter — and because there were 11 boys, I’m sure a few squabbles, the kitchen was the heart of their home and the table was the main artery. 

Sharing a meal is important - Leslie Anne Tarabella with Jule Moon, Fairhope, Alabama

Using fine crystal goblets or plastic cups imprinted with “See Rock City” doesn’t matter, and I guess the paper towels don’t matter either, but to make the table a lovely place with whatever you have invites people to relax and linger. Even dining alone is more of a treat when a flower from the yard is tucked in a vase or there’s music playing instead of the blaring TV. The blessing of food is sweeter when we’re focused on our plate. 

sharing a meal with those you love is important - Mother's Restaurant in New Orleans, Leslie Anne Tarabella

People don’t believe it, but my husband and I really do share a candlelight dinner almost every night. When our boys left for college, we started eating in the dining room, and since there were candles already on the table, we decided to light them, and found it was the most relaxing part of the day. We usually sit and talk for over an hour each night. It sounds fancy, but often it’s just regular old soup and salad. It’s not the food or table or chairs we love, it’s the ritual of tuning out the world for a while and grabbing the gift of time. 

Candlelight supper - family meals are important. -story by Leslie Anne Tarabella

While the world seems to be pulling us apart, the table pulls us together. It’s often the only common experience a family will share all day. Shared food, shared ideas, dreams and stories and a shared view of sweet faces, and hopefully a pretty napkin. 

This story first appeared on and in their newspapers, The Press-Register, The Birmingham News and The Huntsville Times.

  • I love beautiful china, silver flatware, and crystal goblets, so why is it that most evenings dinner is eaten on paper plates with the darn television playing? It wasn’t always this way. When the children were still at home we ate either in the dining room or breakfast area but we’ve gotten lazy. I’m going to make a concerted effort to make dining an enjoyable event! Thanks for the nudge back to civilization1

    • You’ll feel like the special person you are if you treat yourself right! Good for you!

  • Maria Rosso says:

    I’m glad to read that Chris and I aren’t the last two people on the planet who sit down every night to dinner with cloth napkins.

  • belinda stevens says:

    BTW – in this confusing and chaotic time, always refreshing to read your posts! Love your writing.


    • Thanks Belinda! The gift of distraction is valuable these days – glad you liked the story!

  • belinda stevens says:

    Candlelight each evening together – how wonderful!


    • True- in full disclosure, sometimes we argue by candlelight at the table, but it’s hard.

  • George Nelson says:

    Hi, Leslie Anne! As always, I enjoy your columns. Many, like this one, bring back memories of family meals including meals at my grandparents homes. My paternal grandparents had one of those long tables, but us kids were relegated to a smaller table in the kitchen and frequently ate after the adults finished. My grandmother was still cooking on a wood-burning stove. Recently I’ve started eating on my sun porch where I can watch hummingbirds feeding and resting on limbs of a pine tree that fell during Sally and is still in my yard, waiting on a local tree service!

    • Dining to the sites of hurricane damage . . . you get the most optimistic award! Great way to make destruction into artful beauty! I actually took my breakfast outdoors one day to eat while I contemplated the oak tree in my swimming pool. Your grandmother sounds wonderful, and yes, I’ve sat at those children’s tables many times. Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you liked this story!

  • I too value family meals with our two teenagers. They don’t talk too much, but they listen and pipe in every once in awhile depending on their moods. Shamefully we do use a ripped off Bounty paper towel most nights…I apologize. Occasionally I’ll get out my pretty cloth napkins, but no one ever uses them and I quickly snatch them off the table at meals end before they need washing! Hehehe

    • Hey, just sitting down together is more than most do! I found that if I asked my boys about their day, they wouldn’t say anything, but if I asked what kind of day their teacher had, suddenly the flood gate opened and I’d hear all about the tests, class pets, and of course, the one kid who threw up. – Great dinner conversation! Keep up the good work!

  • Such a great tradition, and I was brought up the same way. While my children were young, we didn’t have family dinners every night but we always had a proper dinner on Sundays at the dining room table and as they got older, especially college age, they treasured these meals and we would linger and talk for hours. I love that you and your husband continue to enjoy a quiet candlelit dinner, such a great way to escape the day!

    • I would love for my boys to live close enough to have a big Sunday dinner. Glad you have such a big, hungry family!

  • Dinner was served at the same time everyday at my parents’ house. My brother and I rarely missed a meal around the table, it was the highlight of the day. I wish I could sit down for one more meal prepared by my beloved Mother. No 5 star restaurant comes close.

    • You are so right. To have one more meal with those we have lost. Time around the table is precious. Thanks Pam.

  • Some of my best childhood memories are sitting at the kitchen table every single night and listening to my parents chat about the day. It was safe and cozy and loving. It is also where we learned our best manners. Even when my mom lived alone later in life, she still set her place at the table and always, but always, wore her lipstick. She would be cheering you on with this story!

    • Oh, how I would have loved sharing a meal with your mom. She obviously knew the value of caring for family and yourself. Good memories Roxanne.

  • Savan Wilson says:

    Another winner! Funny, as today, I was organizing my table cloth napkins and deciding which to keep and which to donate or garage sale! Love the whole article but this stood out – “While the world seems to be pulling us apart, the table pulls us together. It’s often the only common experience a family will share all day. “

    • Thanks Savan. Glad you are a table/dinner lover. Since you’ve traveled to Italy, you’re familiar with the long, soulful meals they serve where talking and laughing and even crying at the table are acceptable. Rushing off isn’t.

  • Arlene Cocke says:

    Ms. Leslie, so happy to hear what is important, and what seems like candles and flowers and cloth napkins are just not important! Well what is??
    Just taking the time to set the table, after you have prepared a meal, yep, rattled those pots and pans, all
    of the above make your kitchen time special! Guess what? Sold four Vera cloth napkins yesterday in my booth! Wow, still a few of us around! Thank you for reminding us what IS important!

    • Time-time-time! That’s what’s great about all of those dinners. Glad you agree Arlene and happy you made a good sale at your booth!

  • Well said. Some of best memories in life have been around the table. I always made my kids use the fancy stuff at holidays and now I think they would be extremely disappointed if we didn’t do it. Of course, we had our share of pizza too and lots of kids as well. There is truly something special about dinner time conversation. I hope that along with a few others things will make a true comeback in 2020. I was just cleaning out my cloth napkin drawer today and realized I had way too many. I might just go back in there and pull out some of the older ones to actually use on a regular basis. Thanks for reminding that would be a good idea.

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