The Children’s Table

In debriefing Smartacus about his fall term, I learn how one day recently he was Facetiming his friend Adora back at the restaurant where he worked last summer, “when I fell out of my chair and my phone went flying…”

Naturally, he screamed a little, and his college friends now mimic that scream when they see him around campus.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep…

This isn’t a family, it’s a comedy troupe.

Sure, it’s good to have Smartacus home, though there were instantly piles of socks and shoes in every corner of the house, and I still can’t find my charging cords, even the extra ones I hid.

The car is missing. My wallet. My watch. Almost all my Olympic medals.

To his credit, Smartacus nailed the stuffed mushrooms on Thanksgiving, no small feat.

Meanwhile, I spent the Thanksgiving feast holding my grandbaby Catty Cakes. I insisted on holding her while her mother ate first, after she and Finn had spent 24 hours prepping for this massive meal.

To be honest, it was a dream come true for me, holding and entertaining Catty Cakes at the children’s end of the table, near my new friend Enrique, the 14-month-old in a high chair who is my new bestie. Smartacus was down there too.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep…

So, there I was, essentially, at the children’s table, which is a very underrated place. More fun, more giggles, take place at the children’s table than almost any place on the planet. You can kick your shoes off and play with your food. It’s almost expected that someone will stick green beans up their nose.

Eventually, one of the adults will yell over: “You doing OK over there?” at which point someone will moan nooooooooo, and the kids will chuckle, and the adults will turn back to their conversations about gas prices and Wes Anderson movies.

Now you see why I like the children’s table? Never seen a Wes Anderson movie that I even half understood.

Honestly, it was a great meal. Catty Cakes was so good, and Enrique was teaching me Portuguese. He’s bilingual, this toddler. Mom is Portuguese and dad’s Australian, so basically I couldn’t understand a single thing.

We just sat there doing kids’ table schtick — overstuffing dinner rolls into our faces —  till the lovely and patient older daughter could finish her Thanksgiving meal, the one she had taken so long to prepare.

Months passed. I kept looking down at my older daughter, waiting for her to rise from the table to retrieve her beautiful daughter, who was standing on my lap with those princess shoes she wears, surprisingly sharp in the heels.

You have any idea know how hard it is to hold off on a Thanksgiving meal, after smelling the turkey for two hours, and the sage in the stuffing, and the super-cheesy green bean casserole and the roast carrots…like a prayer, topped with crumbed rosemary and other herbs?

I could see the butter glistening atop the mashed potatoes, back lit by the many candles. The cranberries had that crimson glow that only cranberries have … little red pearls.

Catty Cakes with Uncle Smartacus.

More wine was poured, and someone asked for seconds on stuffing. I watched as the other guests – Kate and Nathan, Alex and Em — pushed the white meat into the stuffing, then into the gravy, then painted it a little with the satin cranberries, which had a hint of citrus, from a family recipe Kate brought all the way from Pennsylvania.

Look, I’m not a strong man to begin with – we all know that. My lower lip started to quiver and my hand shook as I sipped some canned Rose.

Pretty much nothing good was happening, till Enrique’s mom taught me to say hello in Portuguese (Olá), which sounds a lot like hello in Spanish (Hola). So by the end of the meal, I felt nearly trilingual.

Portuguese, as you know, is a very tough language, and my first attempt came out oy-vey, as if I were kevetching; subconsciously I probably was.

Because by now, everyone else’s plates are almost empty, absolutely polished clean, so good was this meal.

No one said “I’ll take her now,” or “pass me that beautiful baby.” No one.

At one point, I clinked a fork against a wine glass, as you would to give a toast. When everyone grew silent, and started futzing with their napkins, dreading what corny stuff I might have to say about life and family, tragedy and joy, I blurted: “Could someone please pass the gravy boat? Just sail it down here in this direction where I can drink from it?”

It was my little way of reminding the lovely and patient older daughter that I was still unfed and holding her gorgeous daughter, who by this point, was so bored that she was pulling my mustache apart.

No worries. Eventually I ate, then finished what Smartacus had on his plate, a tradition that now goes back 18 years and explains the 10 pounds I can never lose.

Then we had 14 kinds of pie –apple, pecan, milkweed — and Rapunzel stood to pose a serious question:

“WHO WANTS AN ESPRESSO MARTINI?” she asked the group, and I said, “Sure, I’ll try one.”

When she handed out the four espresso martinis, there was none for me.

This is what happens when you get old — you become invisible.

You know, I’m not one to complain (I’ll leave that to the millennials). But two things to note as these overheated holidays barrel down on us:

  • I really appreciate a good fruit cake, despite all the jokes about fruit cake, which I think have become grossly overblown. Give me a slice of fruit cake, with those colorful jujube candies in it, and maybe a shooter of rum or eggnog, and I’m a happy Santa, almost ebullient.
  • This year, Santa (me) is giving everyone crypto currency, even though I’m not sure what it is, and no one can adequately explain it.

Apparently, that’s the world we live in now – no one can adequately explain anything – my TV, the “cloud,” how to get a good table at La Scala, which I really think leaves us ripe for treachery and deceit. No wonder gypsies and con artists seem to be thriving all over LA. Health care companies too. And all the other corrupt corporations with their mind-blowing subscriber surcharges and franchise fees.

More and more, it’s like I washed up on the beach without an identity. I crawl ashore and ask the first stranger: ‘Olá, can you please point me toward the last remaining race track?’”

Instead, I wind up at Brennan’s, that old dump on Lincoln, where big crowds turn out for turtle races every Thursday night.

Close enough. Thank you.

By the way, all bars should be Irish bars like Brennan’s. And if they can’t be Irish bars like Brennan’s, they should be down-on-their-luck tiki joints.

My ideal, of course, would be an Irish-Portuguese tiki bar, a triumph of cultures and ideals rarely seen in America anymore, which used to be a melting pot and now is just – what? — a vat, a cauldron, a pie pan, a very leaky commode?  

Yes, an Irish-Portuguese tiki bar, a sanctuary for misfits like me.

Trust me, it’d do very well.

For the holidays, please consider my book “Daditude,” full of holiday stories, including the December morn when Smartacus was born. Also, we have just re-stocked the supply of Gin & Tonic Society glasses, a beautiful weight for any holiday drink. Info: ChrisErskineLA.com, where you can also sign up for newsletters and hiking alerts. Cheers and thanks.

18 thoughts on “The Children’s Table

  1. Sounds like you had a lively and delicious Thanksgiving at the children’s table. Catty Cakes is growing so fast, she won’t be there for long! Thanks for sharing the fun with us.

  2. Another great column, Chris. So relatable. As a kid the only reason to sit at the adults table was to hear my Aunt’s dirty jokes. As as an adult, I envied my brother in law who whooped it up at the kids table while the adults acted prim and proper while my Dad yammered way too long about politics.
    And so much fun to see you in El Segundo and share a game of pool– what a treat. Have a wonderful holiday season with your family!

  3. Wonderful to meet a fruitcake fan who will admit it in print. For many years I baked a fruitcake that made the annual top 10 favorite recipes chosen by the staff of the LA Times Food Section. With dates, dried apricots, almonds, raisins, lemon and orange zests, it’s very Californian, (plus candied cherries and pineapple). The secret ingredient is Grand Marnier. The recipe’s name is Holiday Fruitcake. It’s wonderful and deserved to be in the Top Ten.

  4. Fun to read this on Thanksgiving Day weekend. Love how you sneaked in your complaint about millennials. Are you going to share any of the recipes from that Thanksgiving feast?

    1. Thank you. No recipes to share, except maybe the bourbon smoked turkey, which is from a book called “Project Smoke.” I’ll plug the book and leave it at that. Probably a useful recipe even if you’re roasting it in the oven rather than smoking it.

  5. This family food holiday is well served by this perfectly intimate narrative. I liked that the grandfather let’s it all go so the cook can eat first (always), vows to not kvetch and be appropriately thankful, and then does exactly the former while rumbling out the latter. This kind of male recursion has always felt human and right to me: nobility and yearning in one big bite on a day that raises eating to the level of high art, consumption as creativity having such appetitive resonance on this day of culinary hosannas. After today’s hardscrabble scramble over Black Friday’s vast greedily chaotic material landscape, we now head to the lights, noise, song, and contrasting lovely solemnity of Christmas, and the dark nadir of the Winter solstice. At least many of us are warm, well fed, and well lit, when so many are not. Now THAT is a reason to be thankful.

  6. I’ve been the invisible grandma for eight years now. I’d forgotten how to eat while holding a baby, until my youngest baby produced our beautiful granddaughter. She has now gifted us with three wonderful grandchildren, all while working full time as a post op nurse.
    The trick is to start feeding the baby whatever you’re eating. It will, of course, be wrong (even though it’s what the grandchild’s parent ate) and Mom will come retrieve said grandchild ASAP, so you can’t violate their baby mouth with mashed potatoes or some other atrocity. Then you’re free to be forgotten when the espresso martinis are passed out.
    Don’t get me wrong. I love being Grandma more than any job I’ve ever held, but you DO learn the tricks of the trade.
    Happy Thanksgiving! You’ve given me some wonderful chuckles.

  7. Highly recommend reading Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory while enjoying your fruit cake, maybe in front of the fire with a little spiced eggnog! And it’s a story you can read to Catty Cakes in a few years. Happy Holidays!

  8. Chris, your column is always like the cherry on top. Thank you for your vision that is always our best chuckle, under breath, or outloud!

  9. From one fruitcake lover to another – Happy Thanksgiving my friend! If you haven’t yet checked out “The Fruitcake Connection” song I wrote and played on YouTube, do. I think that Catty Cakes would enjoy it… 🙂

    1. I think my fruitcake ode began with something you said about it, Pete. I just picked up the ball and and ran with it, since I feel the same way. Will check out the song.

  10. I collect cranberry recipes. Please post. And gog “Trappist Abbey fruitcakes” . They are just 1 lb and quite delicious.

  11. Oh Chris, I try so hard not to have a “children’s” table. I realized that the round table of eight would be that and I put myself at the head of it. Opened the seating up and two mid-aged kids hopped on. So we had four grown-ups and four kids. The 16 month old baby was with us in a high chair, tossing food about as she is wont to do. Thanksgiving!!!

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