by Harry T. Roman


"I don't care what you are doing with your friends after school. This family eats together at 5:00. You be here!"

"But Dad......"

"No exceptions Mister. You be sitting in your chair, cleaned up and ready to start chewing….. or be ready to deal with me. End of discussion."

How I remember those dinner table episodes. Even the dog ate at the same time. Whatever we had, he had. His plate was put out just like ours, with a salad too! There were no exceptions in the Roman house. Kids today have no idea what "zero tolerance" means.

All five of us sat around a cheerful Formica table in a not so terribly big kitchen. Looking back now, I remember best those summer days with the windows open and the bright yellow room aglow with the late afternoon sun.

"Hey Slick, close that blind just a notch will you. The sun is catching my eye."

"Sure Pop."

I sat by the drawstrings on the Venetian blinds, so I usually got the call when sunlight was too strong. I also had the seat nearest the radiator too, a coveted location when those winter winds came to town.

Now sadly I hear from many of my teacher friends that so few families eat together anymore. Let alone the large number of single-family parent households. No wonder the kids get angry and alienated.

"Hey Mom, what's for dessert?"

"Ice box cake."

"Only after you clean the table and help Mom with the dishes (Dad again)"

"Yes sir." (Remember that.... 'yes sir'? How many kids say that today?)

How I loved butterscotch flavored ice box cake. I could eat a whole dish of it right now, with a tall glass of cold milk!

Those daily family gatherings were pivotal in our young lives, a chance to exchange what we heard and learned during the day. For Mom and Dad to answer questions and give directions. And on occasion to air out some "dirty laundry" and straighten out any misunderstandings.

Pop sat at the head of the table. His body language set the tone for the activity. Mom had the table set and just about ready when his car pulled up. Spike our old family dog let loose with a huge Beagle howl when he heard Dad's car coming up the street. He was the first one to meet Dad at the door. They played together for a few minutes, and that usually erased any of Dad's latent tenseness from work. He sat near Dad's feet during dinner.

Sundays, and Tuesdays were pasta days with meat gravy, and Friday was fish with marinara sauce and some pasta side dish; or maybe beans and such. Dinner was a predictable activity, not so different from the liturgy of the Church. It moved with the seasons. It gave the house a comforting feeling.

How can you not be home with the kids at dinner time? It was the same way when I had my family. Only now I sat at the head of the table.

It was especially egregious to miss Sunday afternoon dinner. That was something you confessed to your priest. The 1:00-2:00 time slot was inviolate. The sacred tomato gravy gently simmering on the stove. The table all set and ready for Dad to get back from 12:00 Mass at St. Francis where he was a collection usher. From the Rectory he would call Mom.......

"I'm on my way. Get the kids around the table!"

And God forbid, if I forgot to pick up the Italian bread at the bakery and the Sunday paper.

Ah but the zesty smell of that kitchen, gravy thick with meat and sausage, a nice big salad, and parmesan cheese aromas. It might have been home-made lasagna, or manicotti, or stuffed shells....oh, it was glorious. We ate with great gusto! Then we rested for an hour or so, and maybe visited other family members later in the afternoon, or took a ride---another long gone NJ tradition as traffic now is almost always relentless.

Just one more time I want to be seated around that old table, listening to 1950s style conversations. I passed by the old house a few weeks ago. There on the front porch were three little girls getting ready to go to school. I hope the echoes of that cozy kitchen I remember are lovingly wrapping them in the warmth and security our family knew.

Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: