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To think there was a time when we were so important in the lives of our children that there would be endless interfamily squabbles over who got to sit next to us at the dinner table.

TALNEYWhen our children were very young — the oldest being perhaps 8 or 9, the next in line 4 or 5 and the youngest 3 or 4 — they would fight over who got to sit next to Mom and Dad at the dinner table each night. Given the configuration of our table, there could be one beside me and one beside Linnette. The third child ended up in what they somehow decided to call "the no-one chair."

Where that name came from, we have no idea. It just emerged spontaneously out of their incessant childhood bickering.

We did our best to resolve the confrontations by carefully rotating the seating arrangement each dinner hour. That never seemed to quite satisfy them, however, because anyway you cut it, someone was always confined to the "no-one chair," and he or she inevitably felt left out and would sit sulking through the balance of the meal.

It was the subject of much angst and trauma. It was an endless source of disagreement that continued for many of the years we were together as a family.

Of course, as they aged and matured, it finally became more a joke than a matter of resentment. In fact, in time they were more likely to prefer sitting in the "no-one chair," as far from either Mom or Dad as they possibly could. Such is that unique result of evolutionary science known to us all as the emerging teenager.

But now that those same children have reached adulthood, married and have families of their own, we sometimes wonder as we sit down to what has become our all-too-quiet dinner hour if there is a "no-one chair" in their households? Probably not, as both families with children have only two, so each can have a parent to sit by. A simple solution. Conflict resolved, indeed. And in any event, their children are all teenagers or beyond now, so may also be past the age of wanting to sit by Mom or Dad.

But still we find ourselves thinking back to those early days of our family life together and sometimes, sitting down to our lonely dinner, we look across the table at that "no-one chair" just sitting there silent and empty, with a certain sense of nostalgia. Even longing. To think there was a time when we were so important in the lives of our children that there would be endless interfamily squabbles over who got to sit next to us at the dinner table pleases us. We haven't felt so needed since.

The No-One Chair. Every family should have one.

Lake Oswego resident Ronald Talney is a retired trial lawyer, writer and poet. In 1985, he wrote the official dedication poem for the statue Portlandia. Look for his column, "My World," on the second Thursday of every month in The Review.

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