“What is your favourite sound?” was one of the questions that the legendary French interviewer and literary figure, Bernard Pivo, used to ask his interviewees. The answers were usually interesting but not very original. “The sounds of nature,” “A champagne cork popping,” “The harmonious cacophany of the orchestra tuning up before a concert,” were some of the answers that I can remember.
Had he interviewed me I would have given a different reply, though I’ll grant that those are all very agreeable sounds. The sound that I like best is the buzz and hum made by the voices of my children and grandchildren as they sit at the dining-table while I am giving out the food that comprises our Friday night meal.
Whoever designed our house must have had a typical family meal in mind when he (or she) placed our rather small but compact kitchen adjacent to the dining corner, so that eye and ear contact between the two is not lost. The layout is arranged in such a way that there is not very far to go from the hob, where the saucepans are arrayed, to the diners sitting at the table. We have been living in the house for almost thirty years, so that inititally we just needed room for ourselves plus one or two of our offspring. Then along came their spouses, followed by children of their own, so that where once we had to find room for five or six people, today our table is often laid for twelve, fourteen or more. There was a time when there were several little ones either sitting at the table or running around and playing football or tag in our open-plan living area. Thankfully, those days are now long gone.
Over the years the grandchildren have grown up, so that by now most of them are adults, and this brings me to the sound I love. As they sit together at the dining table they talk about the various subjects that interest them (not politics) and because by now we have four or five grandsons who are at one stage or another of their military service or have even completed it, their voices are deep and manly. And it is the sound of their animated conversation, often interspersed by guffaws of laughter, that I find so pleasant to my ears. Of course, the feminine voices of the women of the family, and especially the granddaughters, are also to be heard, and the combined constant background of conversation is as music to my ears.
Of course, the mobile phones are unavoidable and ubiquitous, and are sometimes whipped out to check a fact or to support a point. Our Friday night meals are a mixture of tradition and modernity, beginning with the traditional blessing over bread and wine (Kiddush), but that’s as far as tradition is allowed to intrude into our gathering. One memorable evening, when the man of the house was away, one of the grandsons volunteered to pronounce the blessing. This raised my feminist hackles, and I said that anyone can pronounce the blessing, even me, whereupon the assembled grandchildren rounded on me and insisted that I do so. I had no choice but to comply, and the memory of this continues to amuse my family to this day.
To conclude the meal, either together with dessert or with the tea and cake that follows, we turn to the weekly general knowledge quiz that is a regular feature of the weekend edition of the newspaper, and a combined effort is invested in trying to solve the questions. One person reads out the questions, which cover a wide range of subjects, some of which can be known only by members of the younger generation (TV programs, sport, pop music, etc.), while others are more esoteric, ranging from English and world literature to scientific subjects. We do our best to cover all areas of expertise between us, but rarely manage to come up with more than fifty percent of the answers.
I don’t know how much longer our children and grandchildren will be able to continue assembling at our house most Friday nights, or how long I will be able to cook a meal for a large number of people. All I can say is that as long as I have the strength, I’ll keep on doing so. Whatever the physical toll may be, it is more than compensated for by the emotional satisfaction our family dinners give me.