Monday, August 2, 2010


The setting: a white chrome table in a 1950s kitchen with black linoleum flooring in a square tile design.

A defined seating pattern that never changed: Mom at one end of the oblong table and me at the other end. A bench that Dad made and three younger sisters on it. Dad seated on the opposite side in the middle with my youngest sister on a stool on one side of him, and my little brother on a stool on the other side.

Dinner was always served very late. Dad finally arrived home from the print shop and his customer deliveries around 6:30.

We hated starting our supper when all the neighborhood kids were done with theirs and ready to gather again in the evening for games: Pom Pom Pull-away or Starlight, Starbright. We could hear them in our yard, laughing and squealing with delight as they played, occasionally peeking through the back screen door to check on our progress.

To make it even more agonizing, Mom insisted we sit through a dinner eaten slowly, reminding us that the French took three hours to eat.

Cooking for eight couldn’t have been easy or pleasurable, but Mom always made a good, balanced meal. Some of our favorites were leftover roast beef sliced in leftover gravy and served over white bread, and Marge's hot dish. This was a wonderful rice and ground beef dish held together with cream of mushroom soup. My sister, Christine, and I topped this with Miracle Whip. Strange, I know.

Creamed chipped beef with hard cooked eggs over toast, and tomato soup with marshmallows on top that melted to make the soup creamy were other favorites. Mom didn’t eat vegetables of any kind but cooked them for us anyway. Our favorite was spinach with vinegar poured on top. There was usually dessert, perhaps chocolate pudding with bananas, or spice cake with peanut butter frosting.

My mother thought dinnertime should be a quaint ritual, all of us gathered around the table together. So she added story-reading to our quality family time and tortured us by reading from “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” which, as it happens, was her favorite childhood story.

To listen to us squabble, whine and complain, watch as we squirmed and kicked each other under the table, jabbed elbows and otherwise picked fights, one would have thought it was enough to try her patience and she’d gladly release us. But nothing deterred her and so we sat…and sat…and sat.

Nobody was excused until we said our prayer of thanks: We thank Thee, Lord, for meat and drink, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Then we had our kitchen chores that had to be done before we could bolt out the back door: setting the table, clearing the table, washing dishes, drying dishes and sweeping the floor. That adds up to five chores and there were five of us to do them. Somehow, my little brother, Norm, remained exempt.

Such a routine. Such an ordinary occurrence, dinner time.

Such warm and nourishing memories.