Marc Armitage - Thought Crime

Knives, Forks and Strange Childhood Family Rituals

Knives, Forks and Strange Childhood Family Rituals

a \'shȯrt-rēd'\ piece

When I was a child we had a number of very specific family rituals that had been there for as long as I can remember. These odd foibles were either top-secret and limited only to those in the know or they were so innocuous that those outside the family might not even spot them. The most significant of these was possibly the one involving knives and forks.

At mealtimes, whether taken at the table or on trays in the living room, each of us, mam, dad and me, had a completely different knife and fork unique to us. Dads was a proper old-fashioned ‘Sheffield’ steel and bone handled knife and fork that was probably getting on a bit. Mams, on the other hand, was a much smaller stainless-steel combo with an intertwined flower pattern on the handles. Mine, also stainless-steel, were plain and shiny.

We even had ‘guest’ knives and forks on the occasions anyone else turned up for tea but they were part of an all identical set of cutlery; and if ever anyone not familiar with this little quirk set out the table for a meal and got the cutlery layout wrong one of us was bound to quickly jump up and correct it before eating began.

I know, and knew at the time, that other families had their own little foibles and funny way of doing things too and I think as a child I accepted these very personal differences at face value but also with a recognition that it was something that bound different families together and gave them their shared identities. I see now a great deal of importance in the continuity that these kind of childhood rituals provide and I marvel at the fact that for us they continued so long. Even when my parents were in their late-seventies this ritual was repeated whenever I was ‘home’ for dinner.

I often wonder if this is why I feel very uneasy about the standardisation of life outside the family group. Just the other day, for example, I remarked how in yet another shopping mall in some small town on my travels all the shops and food stores were of well-known and familiar brands. Perhaps the uniqueness of family rituals is an antidote to that, both then and now.

I have no idea what happened to Mam and Dads knife and fork set after I cleared their house out some years ago but I know exactly where mine are. I don’t eat with them anymore because the neck of my old fork is so thin that the head may snap off any day but they both have a pride of place on one of my bookshelves and every time I spy them it brings a smile to my face.




WHAT DO YOU THINK – What were your family rituals as a child? Have any of those continued into adult life or with your own family? How did these make you feel at the time? What rituals do you still have now?


Mad Molly says:
You know, as my father deteriorated (pancreatic cancer 7 years after a debilitating stroke) I remember bursting into tears at the dinner table with my husband and two children.

It just reminded me so much of being at the table for dinner with my parents and brother.

Meal times together as a family are so important!

I'll have to think about specific rituals though....
marc says:
Memory creating Moments, Molly.
Udani says:
Books. I was brought up to respect books. Never to fold the pages. Never throw one away but gently and respectfully put it down. Never step on a book and if you do by accident, to respectfully smooth it out with your hands- as if to say ‘sorry’. Still follow this and I have passed the tradition to my daughter as well. It was never a strict rule but simple way of saying thank you for all the knowledge a book brings.
Jill Lane says:
My nan's sugar bowl. I remember it so clearly, at nan's house whilst all the adults would be talking (for what would seem like hours.....) I would sit at the small round table with its lace runner running through the centre of it and there would be this beautiful crystal cut sugar bowl with the tiniest if spoons sat in it. I would wait for 'the nod' of nan, sat opposite me, which gave me the ok to play with it. I would make patterns in it, create mountains in it, use the overspill to make swirls....all kinds happened. All with this tiny silver spoon and bowl full of sugar.

No-one even took sugar in their tea. I think Nan just brought it out for me.

Still now, I get the urge 'to mess' with one if I see one....

Another one being Nans drop leaf table draws. It was a huge, heavy, dark wooden drop leaf table with two small drawers either end. The face of the drawers were carved into with a vine/leaf like pattern. In one of these drawers was cutlery and tea towels. The other one was filled with all kinds. All kinds of bits and bobs, old sewing stuff, keys that had been forgotten about, money, elastic bands, small tins with bits of stuff inside. All kinds of treasure. But my favourite find was old Christmas cracker toys. So exciting to find one of these! My Nan always had the best crackers-the expensive ones with loads of stuff inside. And finding one of these old toys/puzzles was just ace.
I would always find something new or something I hadn't found before. And I often wondered if Nan was planting new stuff in or if I just noticed different things each time.

I guess I'll never know. But I will always be grateful for the memories.

And I carry them on. I have many boxes dotted around my house, all full of potentially exciting treasure, that get brought out and opened every now and then when 'boredom' kicks in.

Oh, and I also had 'my spoon' as a kid. It was my weetabix spoon. And it would only ever do. It's still at my mums and I always smile and tell her 'never chuck this out!' when I see it.