It's late Sunday afternoon, and we're sitting around the old dining room table, chatting, chuckling and reminiscing. The teapot is on its second refilling, and the serving platter that held three tender pot roasts rests on the generations-old crocheted tablecloth, empty now save a serving fork, a few shreds of beef and a translucent fan of browned onion. Carol's candied carrots are a tangy-sweet memory and the Mt. Kilimanjaro of mashed potatoes has been scaled back to a mogul. A small puddle of fragrant gravy pools in a ladle; a lone roll waits at the bottom of the bowl.

We've sung Happy Birthday and cheered as daughter Chris blew out the candles on her cake. Now, we relax in the lull.

Six-year-old Trystan, finally freed from the constraints of table manners, bursts outside, where the sun is shining and the small stream burbles an invitation to see how fast a small stick can travel in rushing water.

Teenagers Sebastian, Erika and Calen thunder up the stairs to the library, where sleep-sodden commas of cats punctuate the comfy sofa and chairs, and where old books and new cable television open doors to strange and wonderful worlds.

Keith retrieves the heavy glass frosting bowl from the kitchen and thunks it down on the table, handing Chris a spoon. The two scrape chocolate whipped cream from the bowl, the same one that spun under the Sunbeam Mixmaster in our kitchen when I was a child. Helen carries in mugs of coffee. She hands Alan the sugar, kept in a Ball canning jar that, in another lifetime, held peaches, applesauce or tomatoes.

We treasure old things, our family, things that endure. In our home, the books are well-thumbed, the furniture is worn, the house creaky from a century of living and the roasting pans seasoned with the heat of thousands of dinners.

As do well-made books and furniture, our family, strong and close-knit, also endures. Our Sunday dinners are one way we nurture one another and keep our family together as it changes, adapts, shrinks and grows though the courses of our individual lives.

On this recent Sunday, as we sit and chat over tea and coffee and nibble at the remnants of the cake, talk turns to the youngest members of our family. I recount highlights of Trystan's and my grocery shopping trips and visit to a fruit stand, where he carefully chose one dozen apples from an array of wooden boxes, lobbing each fruit into a paper bag held by the farmer. At the grocery store, he is in charge of the shopping list, counting items as we put them into the cart and checking them off the list.

Chris and Keith talk about Sebastian's volunteer work at a hospital, good preparation for his chosen career in health care. As we chat, we marvel at how quickly children grow up. We do the best we can to balance security with the freedom to explore the world and stretch their wings, to keep them safe while allowing them to test their strengths, to take their falls, to try, to fail and then to succeed, shining in their newfound and well-earned confidence.

When they were babies, we held their hands as they took their first tentative steps; as children and teenagers, we still hold their hands, not physically, but as a family, by way of support, encouragement, guidance, time and attention.

We do our best to give them both roots and wings. We hope that when they are grown and we are gone, they, too, will endure to sit around this table on Sundays, nibbling at birthday cake and sharing their thoughts as teenagers laugh upstairs and a child swats at golden autumn leaves in the front yard, the warm security of home and family forever in his heart.