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Storytelling at the Supper Table


There was a day when the stories shared around the dinner table were pretty much the only source of information we had about our past and our heritage. With the advent of Ancestry.com and other apps, you can trace your lineage back almost indefinitely.

I am told by my son Jason that the DNA roadmap is a lot more accurate than the stories that we learned at the dinner table. Accurate? Maybe. More interesting? I doubt it!

As much as anything else, the concept of the family gathering around the dinner table is all but gone. You never had to call us twice for supper (as we describe it down south). Even Duke, the German shepherd which patrolled the premises, had to call for a fair catch on a bone. It was first-come, first-served at the Aun house.

I had ten brothers and sisters and you could always count on the fact that Robert McSwain and other friends of my siblings would stray in to mooch a meal. I think Robert ate more often at our house than he did his own.

It was around those evening supper tables that we learned about our heritage through the stories our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins shared. It was a remarkable walk down memory lane.

Mama Alice would always protect my plate of food as a teenager. Often I had football or baseball practice or if I would work for Ralph Corley and Redd Powell at the corner Esso station just up the street. She would always be good enough to have a plate sent by one of my siblings and would also include a plate for Ralph and Redd and a gallon jar of sweet tea.

I still have trouble cooking today because Mama Alice taught me how to cook for 20 people. I guess I do not do fractions as well as I should because I still tend to cook for triple what we can eat and I end up giving away dishes to my secretaries or to a neighbor.

It was during those suppers that we learned about who we were. We learned of the resiliency of our forefathers. Both sets of my grandparents came to America through Ellis Island from their native land of Beirut, Lebanon. Neither family knew English. Neither had money. All they wanted was an opportunity.

I only met my paternal grandfather once in my life. Grandfather George Aun lived in New Jersey. That was just too far for them or us to travel. Often at those evening meals I learned that he was sometimes a mean-spirited person. I’m not sure that it was a big loss for me to have never had a relationship with him.

I learned that my maternal grandfather Elias Skaff Mack ventured south from Ellis Island in search of riches and opportunity in Miami. He ran out of money in Columbia, SC and had to seek work to continue his journey south.

As fate would have it (so the story goes) he became an entrepreneur. It would be romantic to believe that his entrepreneurial spirt was borne out of an intense desire to be a success. The fact is… no one would hire an uneducated Lebanese emigrant with poor English skills and not much else to offer.

In order to survive, he went to merchants in downtown Columbia and would take dry goods on consignment. His horse drawn wagon would venture through the sand hills of the midlands of South Carolina. He would trade dresses and clothes for vegetables and meats.

This led him to become a merchant and before he died he had established grocery stores and a jewelry business. His wife Tina (my step-grandmother) formed the first kindergarten and day care center in the town of Lexington.

How else could we have learned of their prowess and courage, good traits and bad, were it not for the evening supper table?

It is sad that supper in the round is a lost tradition.

Michael Aun, CSP®, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame® has been honored with the George Morrisey Lifetime Achievement Award® presented by the National Speakers Association- Central Florida.