Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sibling Assignment #52: The Dinner Table

This week's sibling assignment comes from InlandEmpireGirl:

"Many say what is lacking with families today is that time sitting together at the dinner table discussing the events of the day. Here is your topic: Think of a memorable time when our whole family was gathered at a dinner table and your reflections on that memory."

InlandEmpireGirl's beautifully crafted and detailed evocation is here and Silver Valley Girl's in on the way.

Here's mine:

"So, Raymond Pert, have you developed an opinion of President Nixon's proposed freeze on prices and wages as a way to slow down inflation."

"Father, I have been disappointed in President Nixon. He has demonstrated a penchant for big government that I didn't see coming when I voted for him against McGovern. I knew McGovern held next to no libertarian principles, but I thought President Nixon might do more to relieve society of government interference, but that's turned out not to be true. What do you think, Mother?"

"Son, when I recommended that you read Ayn Rand, I didn't know that you would become so hostile toward at least some of our government's actions to improve the lot of our society. I recommend that you read some Kenneth Galbraith as a way to balance your perspective. May I pass you some more chicken? Sissy, you did such a good job balancing the garlic and bleu cheese in this dish. Where again did you get this recipe? I've never seen your father so happy at dinner!"

"Thank you, Mother. The recipe was one I liked when we studied chicken in my culinary class. I so love how Kellogg High School helps me not just earn a diploma, but develop me as a whole person."

In May of 1975 I traveled with a small group of students to England with Dr. Fenton Duvall, Professor of History.

He loved to use times our group had dinner together to lecture on the history of Britain and to ask us questions about our reading whether over mixed grill and red wine at Ye Old Cheshire House or over lemonade or a pint of ale at The Marlborough Arms on Tottenham Court Road.

Dr. Duvall also shared stories about how he similarly encouraged inquiry and debate at his dinner table at home.

I marveled at that idea. It had never occurred to me that the dinner table might be a place to discuss national economic policy or to discuss books or where my parents might recommend reading or where the preparation of food might be regarded as an art.

In fact, my most vivid memories of our family's dinner table center around emotions, not conversation, per se.

No, we didn't discuss the last policies of the Nixon Administration or Randian objectivism nor did was our chicken ever enriched with garlic or bleu cheese.

Mostly we ate pork chops, pork roast, beef roast, fried chicken, minute steaks, canned vegetables, potatoes, and gravy and all the milk we could drink.

I loved our meals.

Mostly I remember the emotions we expressed.

Dad often sat down to dinner under stress, mostly from working two jobs, one at the Zinc Plant and another as a bartender at the Sunshine Inn. He demanded but did not always command our family's respect and wanted all the food passed to him first.

A few times, if it wasn't, he slammed his silverware down, barked, "I'm goin' to Dick's" and left for Dick and Floyd's and stewed over Heidelberg beers at the bar.

Sometimes one of us kids cried at the dinner table. It's hard to remember how these moments developed, but I know I cried over dinner.

One time I cried for the oddest reason, as I look back.

We must have been talking about school over dinner. I was either in the seventh or eighth grade.

My dad's drinking really bothered me. His intoxication at the bowling alley or at Dick and Floyd's or at get togethers at others' houses or at home when friends were over or when he tried to talk with me alone embarrassed, frightened, confused, angered, and embittered me.

In junior high, I swore I'd never follow in his footsteps.

So, we got to talking at the dinner table about a dance that had happened on a Friday night and some of my junior high basketball teammates came to the dance drunk and I told everyone at the table about it.

I suddenly burst into tears. I sobbed.

No one knew what to do. I didn't either. I just cried.

Another time, in high school, during the summer, the band Chicago was coming to Spokane. It didn't look like I'd get to go and I burst into tears. Dad yelled at me that time for crying. He told me to stop being a baby.

He didn't understand how much I loved Chicago.

I was angry and bitter.

Eventually, I got to go. I think InlandEmpireGirl did, too.

I think Mom drove.

Most dinners, however, weren't melodramatic.

Mostly we were happy eating good solid food, drinking cold milk, and acting as if the world of politics, art, economics, and the Vietnam War were not even out there to be talked about.

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