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Covered with plastic to protect it from spilled milk. Or decorated with embroidered linen and real cloth napkins. Legs scarred by the kicks of little feet that can’t stay still. Sometimes the repository of lunch boxes, house keys and unsorted mail. I’m describing the family dinner table; the center of the universe in a home.

Psychologists have long promoted the importance of the family dinner, calling it the most important hour of the day. Yet it seems busy families today often go off in different directions, grabbing food on the run. As a result, not only nutrition suffers, but valuable quality time as well.

I’m lucky to have escaped this modern trend. For me, there are three family tables I have known, remembered and still cherish.

The first is the kitchen table in the home where I grew up. It was white enamel with a thin black trim and was stationed in the very middle of the room where the whole family gathered at exactly 6 every night. This was much to the dismay of my younger brother, who wanted to listen to the nightly radio episodes of “Captain Midnight” and “Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy,” which competed with that dinner hour.

We began our meal with grace and a short devotion (my father was a minister) while we kids impatiently watched the hot food begin to cool. Still, there was love around that table, and memories of those good simple meals my mom prepared remain with me today. It’s hard to believe, but our family ate out only twice in all those years. Home was where we gathered.

When I married and had children, I carried on that tradition with my own family, everyone sitting down at the table shortly after my husband came home from work. I sit alone now, but memories are still vivid. Those were the days of tuna fish casseroles, sloppy joes, meatloaf or anything that stretched a pound of ground beef.

And I remember three kids eying the plate of brownies to see which piece was the biggest and how best to secure it for themselves. We heard reports on school happenings or just enjoyed being together. Dad sat at the head of the table. Sometimes I think I glimpsed a look of pride at his gathered family, his reason for hard work and love. My grown children must remember those times, because they carried on the tradition, too.

The third memorable table for me is ensconced in my summer cottage. It dominates almost half the living room, a massive antique piece of oak with huge, round carved legs. It easily seats eight or squishes 10. It is square but with rounded corners, important because it allows easy, intimate conversation. Three generations gathered there in the best of times. Potluck usually, in food and in conversation. Tanned kids in bare feet and often with wet hair from swimming in the lake, visible through many windows, sometimes the sun setting as we ate. Everyone talking slightly louder than normal so grandma and grandpa could hear. Also listening to their stories from the past, grandpa often laughing until his sides ached and his face turned red.

So much that’s meaningful happens around tables. The grace we give at our large family gatherings says it all for me: “Bless this food before us now. And those who have prepared it. And grant us happy memories. Long after we have shared it.”

Cathy Tallady, who has lived in Lewiston for more than 55 years, cherishes memories of three family tables.