When I was growing up, dinner at our house was loud, hectic, noisy—but regular. There were five of us, my baby brother, my little sister and me, along with Mother and Daddy when he was not off traveling in his job as a hardware salesman. We always sat down, all five of us, at 6:00 p.m. to eat. I have that dinnertime ingrained into my system and now, at 6:00 p.m. my stomach scrunches up and all of my hunger alarms go off.
Mother was an excellent cook but we almost always had the same pattern of foods—a meat, a green vegetable, a starch, and a dessert. Heaven forbid we should deviate too much from those four food groups. However, we did deviate on Fridays because we were a good Catholic family. On Fridays we had a rotating menu of fish, pinto beans or macaroni and cheese accompanied by a Jell-O salad and cornbread. I often questioned Mother about the ham bites off the ham bone in the pinto beans but she explained that they were flavoring, not meat, and to pick them out as we ate the beans.
We ate off our melamine plastic dishes in colors of orange, pea green, and grey and used colored aluminum glasses that collected dew in summer with the fresh-brewed ice tea. Those glasses felt cold in the winter with our milk.
Our discussions around the dinner table were noisy. We vied for our turns to talk as we told of our activities during the day. Daddy was the quiet one and tried to impose some sort of order to the conversations but Mother encouraged us to talk and we did—sometimes loudly.
We all were given jobs to do before and after the meals but arguments often ensued about which of us was being overworked. My younger sister almost always had an extremely urgent call to the bathroom just as the meal ended and my baby brother was too young to help for a very long time! I tended to complain bitterly that I was way overworked, but I did enjoy the times before dinner when Mother and I got to talk alone as I helped her and learned to cook with her.
As I look back I treasure those family times of togetherness around that old chrome table with the beige Formica top and the chairs with the marbled yellow plastic seats that we stuck to in the heat of the summer and shivered with in the cold of winter. We did have togetherness on a regularly scheduled basis at dinner time—6:00 p.m.
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