King of the Card Table, a Holiday Essay

I am in my mid-20s and I still have never sat at the “big people” table for Christmas.

Like most families, we have only one dining room table, and its seating for the holidays is determined by a complex family seniority system. All the old people get to sit there.

Even with all the leafs and extensions put in the table, my family still claims there just isn’t enough room for me, although I’m next in line for one of the coveted chairs. All of my older brothers and sisters have already worked their way up.

So for now I am the King of the Card Table. It’s just me and my little sister and my little nieces and nephews. We have to sit in the middle of the kitchen because the card table is pretty wobbly and gravy is always getting spilled.

Out in the dining room I can hear the big people saying things like, “I’m beginning to question U.S. involvement in the United Nations,” or “Newt Gingrich is the most powerful man in Washington,” or “Pass the peas.” At the card table we’re saying things like “I’m beginning to question my love for Barney,” or “The newt that was in my pocket is missing” or “I have almost all the peas in my nose.”

And there’s always a bunch of pets in the kitchen. Every relative thinks that bringing a dish to pass allows them to board their dog or cat at our house for a day. So this is the domain over which I rule: 10 kids under the age of 12 and a dozen or so animals licking gravy off the floor.

Last year I lodged a verbal protest to the adults.

“If everyone at the big table would just scooch their chairs around a little bit I would be able to sit there,” I said. “And if there wasn’t quite enough room I could just sit back from the table a little ways and use a really long fork.”

They pretended to be trying to make the room for me but the scooching of chairs was less than enthusiastic. “There’s just not enough room,” my grandma said.

Then my dad said, “You can forget the long fork idea.”

At the card table we’re second-class citizens. We get the plastic cups. We get the tarnished silverware. We have to make do with chairs from around the house because all the big people get the dining room chairs. Last year I ended up with our old La-Z-Boy, which sits so low that my eyes were at plate level. Two years ago I had to sit on a bar stool. My entire body was above the table.

As a token gesture one year, my dad let me carve the card table turkey. I tried to be gentle but the card table lacks the stability necessary for turkey carving. The table was shimmying uncontrollably and gravy was slopping everywhere. Kids were crying. Dogs were howling. I cut my thumb and bled all over our beanbag chair, which was supposed to be my seat for dinner.

But what the card table lacks in stability it makes up for in camaraderie. We are the outcasts and it brings us together as one. We hide the vegetables in our napkins. We cut the crusts off our bread. We don’t completely close our eyes during grace. I will say it proud: I am their leader. I am King of the Card Table, and I will shout it to the world as I sit proudly on my futon throne. And I am here to stay, holiday after holiday.

Unless my older sister happens to get married and move away before Christmas.


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