The topic for this week’s 52 Ancestor’s in 52 Weeks is “Invite to Dinner.” This year, I am trying to focus on the stories of my generation.
Honestly, I don’t remember too much about dinners before my brother, Dean was born in 1964. I suspect that is because things got way more interesting when my three sisters and I finally had a brother we could gang up on. Maybe it’s because I was 9 when he was born!! Or maybe that’s when Mom started eating dinner later after we kids were gone from the table.
I do have some poignant dinner-time stories. Most of these will be familiar to my siblings, but I thought it prudent to memorialize them for eternity in cyberspace. The stories are not sequential. Nor are they dated. I have no idea when most of these events occurred, though they were certainly between 1964 and 1975 when I moved out of the family home into my own apartment.
How do you keep five kids engaged at the table without them fighting? Play a game! We occasionally played “I-Spy” during dinner time. We had a shelf unit in our kitchen that served to divide the eating area from the cooking area. Our mom placed all kinds of knick-knacks in the various cubbies, which provided much fodder for our vicious games of I-Spy. My sister, Jeanne, sixteen months my junior, played particularly seriously. I don’t remember what specific clues she gave, but after several frustrating minutes we all gave up guessing. She pointed to an item on the shelf. “I guessed that already!”, I exclaimed out of frustration. Her snide reply: “That’s not a glass. It’s a cup.”
The Day We Learned to Close the Basement Door
We grew up in a typical 1950s ranch house. The dining area had just enough room for the table and the necessary chairs. For some reason, Mom always kept a small table (for her cookbooks) next to the basement door which opened into the kitchen. This made it difficult to negotiate around those seated at the table in order to open the door and go down the 12 steps to the basement. Maybe that’s why the door was often left open. Now you have a picture of the setup. We were all sitting at the table eating. Mom had an affinity for ladder-back chairs, so I know, for a fact, we were all seated in some version of that style chair. Dean, our brother (almost ten years younger than me) was rocking back and forth in his chair.
Several of us warned him to stop rocking. Nope. Why should a little brother take safety advice from his older sisters? “Dean, stop rocking in your chair!!” Next thing you know – he was gone!! Down the stairs he went. Chair and all! We all looked at each other, stunned. This was bad. There was no sound from the basement. We got up from our seats and gingerly peered in the open doorway, terrified of what we might see. There was Dean. Happy as a clam, at the bottom of the stairs, sitting squarely on the ladderback of the chair!!
Why Spaghetti is Fun!
Five children can be quite inventive. Especially when left to their own devices because there were no adults at the table. I have no recollection of who came up with this brilliant game but it did keep us busy for quite some time. Spaghetti was introduced into our home as a frequent dinner item after my mother started dating the wonderful man who would become her second husband. I imagine that was because it was fairly inexpensive (as it still is today!)
The challenge was to see who could form letters using their strands of spaghetti. Now, most children would settle for forming the letters on their dinner plates. Maybe on the tabletop if they were a little more daring. Not us. Actually, neither of those choices even occurred to us. No – we attempted to form the letters by tossing the pasta onto the white kitchen ceiling. If I recall correctly, we successfully formed the letter “B.”
Final Lesson for Any Parent Considering Not Eating with Their Children
For a (very) short time, our mother sat with us and read stories to us during dinner. And then, she was gone. After cooking the meal, she would serve the five of us (each one of us having our very own special melamine plate) and then retreat to her bedroom at the far end of the house. Five kids. Four girls. One boy. Bad idea.
When we weren’t throwing pasta on the ceiling, arguing about specifically colored items during an I-Spy game, or otherwise being disagreeable to each other, we girls would gang up on our poor little brother. “Dean, stop kicking me!,” someone would yell out. “Quit it, Dean!,” another woul
d scream. If we were in rare form, one of us might actually pretend to cry. Then would come the yell, from the nether regions of the house. My mother screaming, “Dean, leave your sisters alone!” You do realize, of course, the poor boy never had done a thing. Sorry, Dean.
Reading this, you might think we had no appreciation for our mother and the work she did to keep us all alive. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, the kitchen and our mother’s command of it, was so incredibly important to us that we created a family cookbook as a Christmas gift to her in 2010. (Sadly, she passed less than a year later on Dec. 2, 2011.)
In addition to Mom’s classic recipes, we included some of our own specialties along with some memories of our home and our childhood.
I’ll close this post by sharing some of our “least favorite” dinners. If the stories above don’t convince you eating with us was no joy, these meals should do the trick:
- Frozen Chicken Potpie: 10 for $1.00
- Sanalac Powdered milk – I can still smell it like it was yesterday!
- Butter and meat sandwiches
- Ice Cream Sundaes – with a stale “surprise” at the bottom, courtesy of the Entenmann’s Bakery Outlet
- My personal favorite -the poor man’s Shepherd’s Pie. We called it “Mo-Pea-Po.”
- Spoon cooked ground beef on top of cooked mashed potatoes (from a box, of course.)
- Add canned peas, cooked until they are olive drab.
- Moosh together.
- Eat. or not…..
In case you are wondering, we (all 8 of us!) grew up to be fairly well-behaved adults who possess acceptable table manners. Invite us to dinner anytime! (Well, maybe you should just invite a few at a time!)