Some of my better childhood memories were around our family dinners. One of few normal things that went on in our home was the effort to sit down and eat together. Then again, when I retell some of the stories, they don’t sound quite as warm and fuzzy, but it was the closest thing we had.
Dad wanted us to have manners. So we were given all sorts of decorum lessons at dinner: No elbows on table, No talking with your mouth full, No interrupting, No smacking (with your mouth or hands), No playing with food. This was well before the time of making things fun and interesting or creative at the dinner table. No creative presentations or hiding veggies in something else. Texture issues, gluten allergies, Don’t be silly. NO. That pile of liver and onions sliding on your plate won’t eat itself. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp.
So we would run around the neighborhood as hellions, but would wash our hands and be civilized for the dinner table. I remember when my brother got my sister laughing so hard while she was drinking tea that she had to run to the bathroom and throw up. Being the youngest, I thought it was the coolest thing. Come to find out, making folks laugh until they vomit was not a good dinner thing.
My sister and I have many stories of having to sit at the dinner table much longer to “clean our plate.” We would try the smear around method, the nibble away, napkin hiding, then just relenting to sleep. Today, I have the passive-aggressive tendency to NOT clean my plate. I will always leave one small bite. My husband thought it was some dainty lady thing, so I assured him it was not such a sound reason as that, but that for all the times I was forced to eat or stare at food that made me sick. AND if he takes that morsel, it throws everything off.
My brother was a trash compactor and could shovel down all sorts of food and put my sister and I to shame—smirking as he was given permission to leave the table. Even the dreaded liver and onions night, he could maw down the texture nightmare. I think I managed to get more down by taking large gulps of chocolate milk (Quick powder mix was the only way to go) or lemonade. Some mercy was shown on these nights, some. I think understand where my constant stomach trouble came from. Now, Spaghetti night was the best dinner. I loved every single part of the meal which was a rarity for me. I ate salad, bread, spaghetti, and we were allowed a splash of wine in tiny etched glasses. There would be no children nodding off to sleep in their plates or crying because of an achy belly.
Even in the midst of the chaos of our home, it seemed when we could at least try having dinner together, it all worked out somewhat normally. Of course, now I understand far more my dad’s pressing for a normal dinner table. I like to say when Mom wasn’t manic (bi-polar) and Dad wasn’t drinking, things could almost be normal. Alas, that was like the family dinners, rare.
Our normal wasn’t and this was Dad’s small way to instill normalcy even with liver and onions.