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