Not many families take time to sit down and eat dinner together these days. But in my family, growing up we ate together almost every night. At our kitchen table we each had an assigned seat, which was a direct result of the fights that broke out over the dreaded “Running Seat”. You see, being your typical fat-ass American family we have so much food that we need two refrigerators to hold it all (first world problems, I know). Our second fridge is located in the basement. Whenever we ran out of butter or milk during dinner the kid sitting in the seat closest to the basement door had to go down ALL those stairs, grab the food item, and then walk back up ALL those stairs to the dinner table. As you can imagine this was a great burden on us and so no one wanted to sit in that seat. My mom grew tired of hearing us complain and fight, “I had to go get the milk from the basement last week, I’m not doing it again tonight!” so she did away with the “Running Seat” and assigned us seats. Everyone got a chair except for my youngest sister Jane and me, we had to share a wooden bench. This was fine when we were little but when we were no longer American Girl Doll sized space became a little tight on that bench. The youngest children always get the short end of the stick.
Each night my mom would make a delicious meal and serve her five kids Great Depression sized meal portions on tiny salad plates, just enough to prevent our bodies from going into starvation mode. She claims she did so because we just didn’t eat a lot but I think her real reason was so we would have leftovers for the next night. Nothing makes my mom smile more than a leftover night or “clean out the refrigerator” dinner night so she can get a night off from cooking. I don’t blame her, I’ll probably be the same way with my future children.
Since my mom did the cooking us kids were expected to help with the other dinner preparations and clean up. We were each assigned a dinner chore-someone would have to set the table, another person would have to do the dishes and another person was tasked to serve and clean up dessert. The Kelly family believes that no dinner is complete without dessert. Then my mom would make up a BS job like sweep the floor or something just so one person didn’t get away with not doing anything.
When we were younger someone would spill their glass of milk just about every night at dinner. And it seemed no matter where at the table the milk was spilled from, it always landed on my sister Bridget. But she’s a middle child so I guess she deserved it. Once the nightly glass of milk was spilled, my oldest sister Maggie would usually trip and fall bringing her plate to the sink and break the plate. She went through a very long clumsy stage in her preteen years. It got to the point where we wouldn’t even acknowledge the fact that she had just face planted onto the tile floor again. No one would even ask if she was ok because we knew she would just get up, grab the broom, and sweep up the pieces of her broken plate into the garbage. The crashing sound just become background noise to us. She quickly depleted our plate supply back in the late 90s. Had my parents not spent so much money replacing broken plates, we may have been able to afford two more chairs for Jane and me.
Like any good Catholic family, we say Grace every night before we eat, although we like to add our own little spin on things. My Dad leads the prayer, saying the usual “Bless us O Lord..” then we thank God for everything he has done for us and then anyone can throw out special intentions, saying the name of someone that is sick, had a family member who died or just people that need some prayers sent their way. Because of this, our Grace can get a little lengthy and usually ends up something like this:
Dad: Please continue to bless us and hear our prayers, we especially pray for Grandma, Uncle Jim…
Mom: Kathy Johnson
Dad: Kathy Johnson? What happened to her?
Mom: Her brother-in-law just died
(As this unnecessary conversation goes on the rest of us still have our hands folded and are waiting to get back to saying Grace.)
Dad: Really?! How did he die? He was fairly young wasn’t he?
Mom: Yes, I think he was in his mid-fifties. Sadly he had cancer, he had been sick for a while.
Dad: What kind of cancer?
Me: Can we please get back to the praying so we can wrap things up and eat already? Let’s finish Grace and then talk about this.
Dad: Ok, sorry! Please help everyone that needs our prayer, protect our troops, and keep those dimwits in Washington, DC from ruining our country and putting us further in debt! Amen.
This then leads to my Dad getting very worked up and telling us how we will probably be the ones that have to pay for the country’s debt and that we most likely won’t ever be able to retire. Then I politely wait until he is finished with his rant to ask him if he needs a Xanax and then thank him for making my future seem so bright.
While the seven of us can’t eat dinner together every night anymore, we do make an effort to get together every once in a while to share a meal. And for some reason, whenever we have dinner together now we always end up talking about rats. Each person has their own rat experience or story to share with the rest of the group. In fact, I can’t remember the last dinner we had all together where we didn’t talk about rats. Although family dinners are fewer and farther between these days, we always have a great time catching up with each other and have lots of laughs.