One Saturday morning in Ohio years ago, I dragged two friends from their beds to head east in the pre-dawn hours. Our destination: Freeburg, Pennsylvania, the location where I found the drop-leaf table of my dreams in a small furniture outlet. "Tea table for two, dining table for eight," the online description read. Several lattes, miles, and two tanks of gas later, the table was home.
If furniture were a financial portfolio, one might say we're heavily invested in tables. There's the black round pedestal table in our kitchen, recently scarred by an exploding whiteout pen. There's the extra-wide, extra-long kitchen table in our dining room, which comfortably seats our family of seven, and can be expanded to accommodate sixteen (when we squeeze). Then there are the two dining tables in our basement I bought off Craigslist. Though they most regularly play host to puzzles and sewing projects, they can also seat sticky-fingered children for our larger dinner gatherings. And finally, there is a cherry-wood Pennsylvania Shaker table and my grandmother's blond oak drop-leaf table—as beautiful as the Pennsylvania cherry, but more maternal in shape.
Altogether, we have the capacity to seat 56 people for dinner.
Upon reading this, you may want to reason that because my home is large enough to accommodate 56 people, I must be exceptionally gifted in the ministry of hospitality. And perhaps because you live in an apartment and claim ownership of exactly two chairs (one of which is designated for your desk) and a cat, you cannot possibly be expected to welcome guests to your table. But hospitality isn't measured by the capacity you have for seating guests—it's measured by the warmth of your welcome.
Making do with what you have
We haven't always lived in a big house. When we first moved to midtown Toronto several years ago, we rented a 1920s center-hall colonial whose first floor consisted of a galley kitchen, a modest dining and living room, and a small converted porch just big enough for a desk and a love seat. The dining room barely fit our extra-wide, extra-long kitchen table—never mind its two leaves—and the galley kitchen had less than three feet of usable counter space.
Nevertheless, our first Easter here, we invited 21 people to our home for dinner: We moved the microwave to the basement, clearing premium counter space; we planned an egg hunt for outside, praying for good weather; in the renovated porch area, we put up the Pennsylvania table (one leaf only), and sat two of the teenagers on the love seat, one on the swivel office chair, and the fourth on a borrowed folding chair. The youngest kids we crammed into the basement with paper plates. And finally, seated intimately in the dining room, with barely room for our elbows, were the adults.