Without Family Around, Holidays Really Suck

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Hong Kong is the most expensive place in the world to buy a home, according to Alex Frew McMillan, whose article appeared in The New York Times on August 27, 2015. Housing is "severely unaffordable," he noted and "the average home price is 17 times the median income." For the less price-savvy consumer, this translates into a rarefied price of $83 per square INCH. That means if you have a $3200 per month housing budget, you could afford to rent a 400 s/f apartment. That's barely enough space for a tiny bedroom and squishy bath. Forget a dining room altogether.

I guess that means there's not a lot of leftover space for embellishment and formal living. I remember reading one article about Hong Kong real estate that touted a window sill as "recreational space to hang out in."

I guess that means that large family style Shabbat dinners would present some difficulty for the owners living in units in these billion dollar residential skyscrapers that dot the city's landscape.

Which brings me to my topic: formal dining rooms.

Mine is large, proper and ceremonial. Custom molding on the walls. Large padded chairs around the huge glass top table. Silver candlesticks, cream colored porcelain pitchers, marble top serving pieces. It is imposing and rather grand.

The problem: It is rarely used.

My friend Bev and Barry, on the other hand, have a very basic dining room. No fancy chandelier, imposing dining room table, upholstered chairs or accompanying Oriental rug. Their dining room has a train set on the floor. Cincinnati Reds posters on the wall. And a Monopoly game set up on a nearby card table. It is used all the time by grandchildren who live just minutes away and drop by often.

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Aw.

My dining room, on the other hand, is empty. Deserted. Seldom used. Seldom entered. Here is it is in all its functional utility.

Oh yes, occasionally, my glass top table supports a project or two I am working on, or a resting place for Chanukah packages to be mailed. or clothes destined for the dry cleaner.

It's far from the way I had envisioned when we moved into our house almost 10 years ago. I imagined my grandkids -- with their parents -- seated around the table celebrating Shabbat -- sometimes jumping up, kicking each other, making funny faces. My husband and I admonishing them not to tip over the wine. My husband and I encouraging them to take more challah. My husband and I beaming with pride as they haltingly recite the HaMotzi.

For whatever reason, my dining room table remains mostly uncluttered. Underutilized. Rarely filled with members of my family. Its chairs are uninhabited. Its ivory, non-stain resistant upholstery unblemished, due to lack of activity.

A very wise friend once said to me: Life never quite turns out the way you thought it would.

I see that now.

For over 14 years, my nest has been empty. My kids are scattered and the grandchildren live far away. Tumultuous family gatherings have not materialized, nor have impromptu dinners, brunches, or barbecues. And I am sad. To have the space -- to appreciate the space -- to long to use the space -- is something I find disturbing.

So, in the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my husband and I will be in the New York area spending time with three of our sons and their families.

And I am hatching a plan: If the family is not coming to us, we will come to them. Next year I want to rent a little efficiency apartment close to our New York kids for a couple of months in the fall. I envision enlivening it up with a few green plants, a stack or two of my favorite books, a few precious photos and my hanging hamsa. But the most important thing I hope adorns that little space is the presence of my kids, daughters-in-law and grandchildren.

That's the most priceless thing of all. And thankfully we don't live in Hong Kong where the reality of a second pied-a-terre is as outlandish as the square price of real estate.

My formal dining room will be empty next fall, but my heart will be full.

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