More Than Eating
The other day my daughter mentioned that she and a group of fellow students were writing to a group of French students about typical eating habits of Americans. She observed that few of her friends’ families ate dinner together. She was not surprised, but it made me reflect on why I believe eating dinners as a family is important.
When I think about even the word “family,” I envision my mother, father, sister, and brother all gathered around a kitchen table. My dad was a career Army officer, and I moved and attended over 15 schools in the time I progressed through grades 1-12. With this much change, one of the constants I relied on was the hour or so I would return to my house and sit with the four other people who knew me best. I may not have had anyone to eat lunch with fourth period, but at the end of the day, I’d find myself sitting at our kitchen table with the same crowd.
I remember the tables we gathered around. When I was very young, and I’m certain money was particularly tight, we ate on a redwood picnic table. It was circular, and I thought it was stylish. When my dad was in Vietnam, the house my parents bought had a booth in the kitchen. There was room for only four people, and I suppose this worked for that year. In the seventies, we went through a tacky black plastic table with matching swivel white chairs. What Elvis Presley was to music, this table was to dining. I remember thinking it was totally mod!
Oddly, a lot of my memories of family meals have to do with the arguments. Peacefulness and joy were not always part of the dinner hour. My sister constantly challenged the authority of my parents, and my dad loved to monopolize the conversations. Most of what I remember is my dad telling my sister how soon she would have to move out, my sister retorting that she was never going to leave, followed by a tediously detailed story about my dad’s work-day. I always knew the personalities of my dad’s co-workers and the events of his day. The lessons and strategies that were presented during these “war room” discussions are still part of me.
The food my mother prepared was also predictable. She kept the food basic: pork chops, spaghetti, chili, pizzas made on English muffins and other unimaginative quick meals. My mother liked to tell us that she had at one time prepared gourmet meals for us. I have no memory of these. I do know that almost every night at close to 5 p.m. we sat down, said grace, and ate the meal she had prepared.
My children are mostly grown; we have only the youngest still at home. The three of us have new “assigned” seats, and we bought a new kitchen table this year. Often the older two who are working and living in cities away from us will call around dinnertime and ask what we’re eating. We put them on speakerphone and invite them back to the solace and wisdom that only family dining can offer.