No grumpy uncles, kids, or loving family, at the dinner table in space


In space, no one asks you to pass the potatoes.

Year-in-Space astronaut Scott Kelly Tweeted out a picture of his family dinner table, after his return to Earth.

Dinner with @StationCDRKelly (Scott Kelly);

Dinner with @StationCDRKelly (Scott Kelly); “My first #dinner at a table on #Earth! More than food, I missed the dining experience while away on my #YearInSpace.”

Astronaut diets don’t excite us anymore, once we learn everything is mashed up and put into plastic, squeezable containers.  Everyone can empathize with the joy of sitting down with beloved family and friends for a good meal. These scenes, more than almost anything else we do, represent the foundations of our our civilized lives.

Two smart phone screens visible, and the photograph itself probably shot from a smart phone. The family dinner table changes.

And yet, this family dinner table looks familiar to most of us, easily recognizable as a place for social interaction, for talk, discussion, argument and love, throughout U.S. history.

Commander Kelly’s table includes immediate family and others — 13 places in all. Is it so much different from Uncle Sam’s and Lady Liberty’s table in 1869?

Thomas Nast's

Thomas Nast’s “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner,” Harper’s Weekly, 1869

Is the Kelly family table so much different from the one Norman Rockwell depicted in his series on the Four Freedoms?

Norman Rockwell’s painting, “Freedom from Want,” part of a quartet based on the Four Freedoms State of the Union Speech of Franklin Roosevelt, in January 1941.

Norman Rockwell’s painting, “Freedom from Want,” part of a quartet based on the Four Freedoms State of the Union Speech of Franklin Roosevelt, in January 1941.

Which is not to say that every breaking of bread leads to peace and harmony, as I had hoped when I found this photograph in 2013:

Photo of a lunch in an anteroom of the President’s office, with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by White House chief photographer Pete Souza.

Photo of a lunch in an anteroom of the President’s office, with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by White House chief photographer Pete Souza.

Smart phones aside — in every nearly-accurate picture of a family meal some family member will be distracted from fellowship by something — getting together for a meal remains a cornerstone of human culture, of human existence.

Welcome back to Earth, Scott Kelly. You can bear witness to the accuracy of the Barry McGuire/P. F. Sloan line (edited here), “You can leave for a year in space, but when you return it’s the same old place.” We hope your witness will be more optimistic than when McGuire first sang it.

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One Response to No grumpy uncles, kids, or loving family, at the dinner table in space

  1. Good comparisons on how we break bread together and how ancient the fellowship is as we gather with family and.or friends. (Granted, sometimes it can be strained!)The times may change but it is still important throughout our culture. Great photos for examples! However, I never understood how that turkey could be carved at the table. Yes, welcome back, Scott Kelly! Cheers!

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