"The Most Important Piece of Furniture"

Recently, an Amishman was talking to a group of visitors on a tour. In the course of his talk, he asked them “What is the most important piece of furniture in an Amish home?”

Before telling you his answer, let’s broaden the question and, without stereotyping too much, think about what our answers might be in our modern family of today. Perhaps Mom would choose the microwave because of all the time it saves. The kids might say the TV or computer. And what about Dad?

I’m wondering how many of us would pick what this Amishman chose? His answer was “the kitchen table.” Those who don’t know the Amish very well might simply suppose that this Amishman likes to eat. I’m sure he does, but he chose the kitchen table because it is where the entire family comes together every day. Indeed, the kitchen table is the center of the Amish home, and guests often find themselves sitting at the kitchen table when visiting friends, whether eating there or not. What happens at the table is what is important --- conversation

When I was a young man, I lived for a few months with a Costa Rican family as part of my Peace Corps training in Central America. The U.S. government, of course, was paying the family for my room-and-board during these three months. The idea was that we would get to know the people and learn some of the language by living with the “natives.” Indeed, I enjoyed practicing my Spanish as I ate together with the parents and their two young daughters at the table every meal.

Then one day, I arrived for dinner to find a new visitor in the kitchen --- a TV. The family, rather than using the money to buy a refrigerator or other appliance, had purchased that most desirable of additions to their home. In a short time, I experienced how television would change our mealtime. Now, family members who were watching a show while we ate became unhappy if others were talking. And no one would turn the TV off while we ate, so conversation was limited. It was quite a revelation to observe how this device, which I had grown up with, changed the family dynamic.

I don’t know if you have a TV in your kitchen, but it can certainly compete with conversation at the dinner table if you keep it on at mealtime. Now please don’t take this as an anti-TV essay. Rather, it is to encourage you to spend time eating and talking with your family, whenever you have time to do so. Even on those rare occasions when the entire family can sit down and eat together, everyone often rushes off afterwards to individual activities in other areas of the house or elsewhere. Are we losing the art of conversation? Maybe we can begin to turn people on to conversation by turning off the TV.

Amish Country News Publisher's Message by Brad Igou (2006)


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