You would think that in a small house such as ours it wouldn't be difficult to round up eight children and get them to the table for dinner. It should be something akin to a couple of cowboys herding cattle in a small pen toward an open gate. In reality it is more like squeezing a balloon—the air leaves where you compress, but it just pops up in two more places. Barb and I do have one thing on our side—hunger. With the help of our squeezing, or in spite of it, all of the air eventually goes to where the smell of the food is.
Interestingly enough now that all the children are at the table the next step is even more difficult. We can't get everyone to shut up for the blessing on the food. Oh, we can get one or two to stop talking, but never everyone at the same time. Autumn will be telling someone about the book she was reading just before coming to the table. Jory will be tormenting Glory about imaginary floaties in her drinking cup. Clory is telling Barbara about her choice of beads for a necklace masterpiece she is making. Little Story will have a hand on either side of my face making me look into his eyes while he painfully explains something that I can't understand.
“Rory, would you say the prayer?” I say loudly enough for everyone to hear. Rory, playing finger drums on the table, glances my way and acknowledges my request with his eyes. His finger drumming continues, however, not in defiance of my request, but because the chatter around the table continues—four or five conversations at once that create such a cacophony that my sanity seems challenged.
“Autumn! We are saying the prayer.” Autumn glares at me for stopping her mid-sentence.
“Jory! Glory! It's prayer time!” They ignore me. “JORY!” I raise my voice. He stops talking but looks at me with impatience. But by now Autumn has decided that she can finish telling Cory her story about her book before I can get the rest of the kids quiet. I have taken two steps forward and slid back one.
I am really hungry. The potatoes are getting cold. The chatter of a bunch of happy, or relatively happy kids, just won't stop. It seems I have only two choices:
1. I can start to eat without a prayer. But I really want to thank the Lord for his blessings before I do.
2. I am a big guy with a powerful voice. I could scream “SHUT UP!” and get everyone to stop talking at once. I think I have tried this before and found that the ugly feeling such a voice brings makes the following prayer hypocritical. Another problem with this method is that I would have to keep doing it at each meal because it is a very ineffective training method.
Then I was struck with pure inspiration.
“Ten, nine, eight . . .” I said loudly. Autumn stops talking and looks quizzically at me.
“Seven, six, five . . .” Clorinda closes her mouth and looks at me wonderingly.
“Four, three, two . . .” Jory and Glory happily join in with the countdown. Story grins broadly.
“ONE.” Rory, who has caught on quickly, is ready and begins the blessing on the food before control is lost again. Immediately after the prayer the chatter erupts like water from a freshly unkinked hose, but it is okay now because the food serving process can begin.
The “prayer countdown” has continued at each meal to this day. Some of the children will assist in the countdown. Others will continue their lively conversations until “one” is said, then there is a sweet moment of silence as the blessing begins.