It finally happened. My babies have grown up enough to be invited to the grown folk table. Though they have traveled with me before and have accompanied me on several of my grown folk meetings, they have always sat at a table or in an area located just an ear shot away from me and the other adults.
This Sunday was a little different. After an extensive meeting with my writers group, when things were winding down, I looked over at my now 20 and 17 year old daughters and decided that it was now time for them to be invited to the grown folk table. For those of you who are not over forty, have southern roots or of African American descent, you may not understand the significance of the grown folk table. It is a magical place where we all aspire to be from the time we are old enough to know that when grown folk start whispering it usually means that they are talking about some scandalous situation involving a family member, church member or someone in the neighborhood. And that the content was a no holds barred round robin of opinions, speculations and topics that are so risqué that the elbows on the table are used to support the heads that are leaning so that the whisper was not wasted in the space between the chair and the table.
After making the overture, my babies quickly accepted and we made room for them in our small but cozy table. Our conversation continued as we dissected and masticated portions of chapters submitted by each of us for review. As with most conversations involving writers and female writers the conversation became very excited and convoluted when we all began to voice our impressions at the same time. It was at this moment that I noticed my eldest gyrating in her seat with hands waving, mimicking the flight deck crew of a navy aircraft carrier and eagerly contributing to the rising decibel level. For a moment I was appalled and somewhat embarrassed in front of my fellow grown folk, what would they say? What were they thinking? Had they even noticed that “my” child had committed the unspeakable sin? I quickly caught her eye and quietly whispered for her to sit back and placed my forefinger on my lips to indicate that I needed her immediate silence. Though disappointed and with a questioning eye, she turned and began to have a conversation with her younger sister.
Lying in my bed that night it occurred to me that I had done something that I hated when it was done to me by my mother. I embarrassed my child in front of others. How could she know the rules of the grown folk table, I had never bothered to explain them to either child, I was too busy instilling the other forms of etiquette and manners to see that they had matured to the point of “the invitation”. I decided that I had to apologize as soon as she appeared from her suite and graced me with her morning attitude, I mean smile.
“Good morning Mal, did you sleep okay?”
Now the hard part, I preceded to tell her that both she and her sister had been extended a most impressive invitation the night before, but that I needed to apologize for having embarrassed her by silencing her participation.
“What invitation was that?” she asked looking at me as if I had two heads, basically her normal expression since she turned fifteen and realized that she was much smarter than I.
“You and your sister were invited to the grown folk table, and there are rules that come with that invitation that I had inadvertently forgot to explain prior to your accepting.”
I then told her that I too had to be told the rules of inclusion when I was about fourteen after making the dreaded mistake of verbalizing my opinion with out solicitation. She listened with interested as I explained to her that when a young person is invited to sit with the grown folk, they are being invited to listen in on information that may benefit them later in live and that the information is of historical significance based on the maturity of the grown folk. I further explained that unless you are asked a question or someone gestures for your input, you are to sit and listen whether the information was important to you or not. I further explained that she could nod her head, smile or make any other kind of motion as long as she did not speak until asked. Just then my youngest one made her appearance so I directed my conversation specifically to her. This is the one in which the world revolves around according to her so I had to impress upon her the importance of paying attention and following the direction of the grown folk topics so that when she is called in to play, she does not look stupid or uninterested. I went on to explain that these rules did not just apply to their age group but followed a hierarchy. I too had to wait to be invited to tables where my elders presided over and that the same applied to my mother who is in her mid sixties. And that these rules were not gender based, they also applied to our elder males. Pointing out that some of my most prized advise was handed to me at the hands of men discussing topics that were not necessarily appropriate for a young lady, but felt the need to enlighten me for when I was old enough to understand the valuable tidbits that I was honored to receive.
After a twenty minute discussion, I ended by asking if there were any questions and did they understand what I was saying. I acknowledged that times may have changed, but that the rules regarding the invitation to the grown folk table had not, and that it was a rite of passage that has been lost to some but I did not want them to miss the lessons that were still to be learned by those who hold our history and our struggles because they did not understand the privilege of being invited to sit at the grown folk table.