No Cell Phones at Nana’s Table

By Jean Webster

When our children and grandchildren visit during the summer we total ten people around the yellow wood dining room table. The three extra leaves mean we all fit at the same table at mealtimes.

This July the view from my kitchen made me smile, at first. It brought to mind my Italian grandmother’s basement dining room. That table held all our family for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter dinners. While her tablecloth was white, we use cloth place mats and (often) cloth napkins, with a different colored ring for each person.

But, the difference between Grandma’s table and mine is more than tablecloth versus place mats. That 1950’s tableau included no extraneous gadgets … no “social media.” The only annoyance was when “the boys” started jiggling their legs in rhythm, making dishes and silverware bounce around on the table.

When I looked over my family scene last month nearly everyone waiting for blueberry pancakes was looking down, engrossed. Our son on his Mac, checking projects at work. Our daughter and daughter-in-law checking emails on their iPads. The grandchildren – including an 18 year old, a 15-year old and two 13-year olds – were likewise captivated by their phones or iPadS. All at my dining room table!

(The only person not on a phone was our son-in-law. He was reading the newspaper. How to please the in-laws. )

I know this isn’t a new topic among people of a certain age and their younger family and friends. I too grew up in the mid-20th century, with one telephone in the house, a mailbox on the door, and paper and pen for writing letters.

I admit that I’ve been working on computers since the early ’80’s, and I couldn’t do without mine. It’s much easier than a typewriter, even the electric ones. And, I love email. It gives me the chance to keep in touch with family and friends all over the world.  And yes, I have a cell phone. But that’s all it is. A portable phone. For emergencies, or to let people know I’ll be late, or … “Help, I need directions.” Honestly.

It wasn’t easy convincing a bunch of grownups that there were just too many gadgets at Nana’s table. We got some stony looks – mostly from our own children. (Shades of their teenage years.)  And excuses. “Checking in at work.” “You know, we’re never off, even when we’re hundreds of miles away.” In the end, we convinced them: No electronics at mealtimes.

Eventually, after everybody but the 15-year old and a 13-year old had left, we were stricter. No electronics at the table at any time. That included evenings when we were playing games after dinner. “Mexican Train, anyone?”

In Maine we have a “distracted driving law,” but because a few pedestrians  have been struck when crossing the street while “on the phone,” there is now talk of a law regarding distracted walkers. It’s still in the talking stage.

However, we had to come up with our own “no cell phone” decree in our 125-year old candy store in Boothbay Harbor. To us, cell phones and a 19th century candy store do not mix. But, it took an annoying customer for us to generate a rule.

Last summer a woman stood in the midst of our store talking in full voice on her phone while her two young kids ran around. When one of them asked her, “Can we get this candy?” she snapped back, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone.” After she left, we decided we needed a new rule. We put up a nice colorful sign on the door, which says “Welcome! You are entering a cell phone free zone.”

Does it work? In fact, one day this summer a man came in and dropped his cell phone on the counter by the cash register. He picked it up when he paid the bill.

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One Response to “No Cell Phones at Nana’s Table”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    hooray for nana! i’d like to see more gadget-free zones and i do see signs popping up more frequently including our local hardware store which is three generations old. this is not a generational thing anyway. it has to do with basic manners and civility.

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