If kitchen tables could talk, what stories they could tell.
Photo credit: Rachel Lynch
As far back as I can remember, gathering around the kitchen table has been a monumental part of my life. So many important moments have happened there. Playing under it as a child fed my imagination. Eating there daily nourished my soul. Celebrating special occasions with family and friends satisfied my need to belong. Addressing my wedding invitations helped me share in my spirituality. And I wore a path around it while lulling my small child to sleep. These are only a fraction of a lifetime of memories I have made around the kitchen table. These cherished memories connect me to my past and have instilled in me a sense of belonging that influences my life today. Gathering together around the table has been an integral key in bringing my family and friends together for a common purpose of connecting. Whether the table is there for sharing a meal, game night, or exploring a business opportunity, it’s there to initiate a coming together in an effort to communicate ideas and experiences. Through this commonality of place, we share of ourselves in an effort to be understood and to understand.
Although I am a mix of Irish, German, and Dutch descent, I believe I get my gift of gab from the French on my mother’s side. In my early years, family gatherings for Sunday night dinners or holiday celebrations at my Grandma Net’s house were no less than 25 people. The guest list represented at least four generations of my family from great grandparents to newest additions. The kitchen table is where everyone gathered to share their stories, eat some delicious home cooked food, and create impressionable memories. As a child growing up in an environment like this, I am acutely aware as an adult how lucky I am. Although my family gatherings could be loud and frenetic with multiple conversations happening at once around the table, there was always a strong sense of belonging amongst this eclectic bunch of people who all shared a common bond of family traditions.
I am often inspired by the thought of how the past generations of my family have gathered together to share countless conversations that are still present today when we gather to continue this beautiful tradition. One of my favorite stories dates back to the year 1246 in France when my French ancestor of the D’Amours de Louviere family met the King of France’s son, Louis IX.
“The D’Amours were Conseilleurs (advisors) to the kings of France since 1246, when a D’Amours saved the life of Louis IX, known as St. Louis, during the “Nobles’ Revolt”. From that time, his descendents were kept as advisors and favored members of the French Court, given titles and seigneuries (similar to fiefdoms in Britain) by the Kings of France until the French Revolution.” (http://popolouvier.blogspot.com)
In 1720, on behalf of King Louis XIV of France, the D’Amours de Louviere’s traversed the territory of New France (which is the mid-western region of the United States today) by using the Mississippi River in an effort to cartograph the land, rivers, and natural resources of the territory. Eventually, my ancestors helped settle the village of Prairie du Rocher, IL, along the Mississippi River while establishing what is today recognized as Fort de Chartres State Historic Site.
As a part of the 2022 commemorative celebration of the 300th anniversary of Prairie du Rocher’s historical significance as one of the oldest established French Colonial Historical villages still in existence today,
“U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation to establish the Prairie du Rocher French Colonial National Historic Park to recognize the importance of Prairie du Rocher and the French Colonial Historic District as a nationally significant architectural village that embodies the cultural heritage of the United States.“
Since I was born in St. Louis, MO, and have lived there most of my life, I am incredibly tickled by this connection to my hometown and have taken great pride in sharing this story with my children. Prairie du Rocher is only a 45 minute drive from my home, so needless to say we have visited the village and historical fort on many occasions. Our typical visit includes a stop at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, in Prairie du Rocher, to visit the gravestones of our loved ones and the past generations of our family. Then we always venture over to Fort de Chartres where we enjoy running through the grounds, perusing the small museum that displays our ancestor’s names, and climbing around the old prisoner cell foundations still in existence today. Everytime I visit, I am welcomed by a strong sense of spiritual connection to the generations who have come before me but also to the land itself which has continued to represent my family’s desire to establish a home and create a sense of belonging within a community.
Meet Gabriel Louvier and Philomen Charleville Louvier, otherwise known as “Mem and Pep” around our kitchen table. Mem and Pep were my great great grandparents who lived on the farm in Prairie du Rocher in the 1860’s. These two are the center of another one of my favorite family stories.
As the story goes, Mem was a sleepwalker who on occasion would wander into the cornfield during the night. Although Mem and Pep both slept in the same bedroom, they slept in separate side by side twin beds. This made it difficult to know when Mem might start to sleepwalk. So, to keep her safe from wandering into the night, Pep tied a string from his big toe to her big toe so he would awaken if she ever left her bed. I can just picture these two sleeping with their big toes tied together and it just makes me smile, every time I think about it.
For generations, these stories and many more have been shared around our kitchen table prompting giggles and laughter while spreading the love that connects our family. For generations, my family has honored those who have come before us by keeping these stories alive along with Mem’s traditional holiday dressing recipe found at our kitchen table every holiday season for as long as I can remember. I have been making my great great grandmother’s holiday dressing for many years now. Each time I do, the comforting aroma of generations past fills the house, and I am reminded of her and Pep, of the farm in Prairie du Rocher, of French Kings and a historical fort, and I am filled with gratitude.
I am the 16th generation of the D’Amours de Louviere family tree. A marker in time I am very proud of and am inspired to share with my children, the 17th generation. I don’t know many families who have such a long history they can connect with. This connection empowers me to continue to keep my family traditions alive by sharing the stories of past generations and introducing the next generation to the living breathing history our family cherishes. Hopefully over time, through the countless gatherings around our kitchen table, from playing Wiffle ball on the grounds of the historic Fort de Chartres, or by consuming delicious holiday recipes from long ago, will inspire the 17th generation and beyond to contribute to the stories that have shaped our colorful past. It’s crazy to think that some day, generations from now, descendants of the D’Amours de Louviere family could be gathered around their kitchen tables sharing favorite stories from my generation in an effort to connect to the past, relish in the present, and bind our families to the traditions that continue to guide this one lucky family into the future.
The Hat Box – literally where generations of my family have stored their old photographs.
Addendum: We respectfully acknowledge the native nations on whose land this story takes place: Osage, Quapaw, Myaamia, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Kaskaskia, and Kiikaapoi.