Growing up in a small town in Southern New Jersey

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The head of the table

That was where my father always sat. But my mom did not sit at the other end. She either sat right next to dad or next to a child who was strategically placed between her and dad.

We had two eating places. When I was small -- when all the children were small -- we always ate in the kitchen, precisely at 6:00 o'clock. And the clock in the kitchen was adjusted almost everyday to be synchronized with dad's wristwatch. The clock in the kitchen was a wall clock and seemed to lose 5 minutes or so a day. After a few years of the daily reset, I guess dad decided it was time to get a new clock -- a clock he only had to adjust maybe once a week. He had a "being on time" thing.

So, dad sat at the "head" of the table in the kitchen. I was always on this left (in the kitchen) then next to me was Deb. My mom sat on dad's right -- which was nearest the stove so she could keep the meager amounts of food we had coming -- and next to her was Mark, and then Carl was on a stool at the other end of the table. It was a very small table, in a very small kitchen. And at the end of dinner, at 6:45 p.m. we would listen to Lowell Thomas (news) -- all of us, not just dad and mom. I never resented having to sit there and listen to Mr. Thomas. I found his rendering of the day's news fascinating.

When we got larger -- physically -- we were moved to the dining room where dad sat in the chair at the head of the table which was located at the kitchen end of the table, rather than at the living room end of the table. In the dining room I sat to dad's immediate right, and next to me was either Deb or Mark. Mom sat at dad's immediate left, and next to her was Carl, and then Mark was at the end.

I never sat anywhere else, but next to my father at the table. Even when we had guests I sat next to dad. When Alan was sharing meals with us on almost a daily basis (before we were married), I still sat next to my father, and we squeezed a chair in between me and my brother Mark (he had rotated around the table at that point) for Alan.

Dining in our house was not a quiet affair. It was always full of conversation, Italian-type fighting, and lots of laughter.

The end of dinner was signified by my father getting his bread and jelly -- which he always ended his meal with. The rest of us, however, ended our meal with salad -- usually just lettuce with a vinegar/olive oil dressing. I still end my meals that way, although now I add cucumber, celery, tomatoes, walnuts, dried cranberries, and blue cheese chunks. Then I top that with balsamic vinegar and oil. That's it, and even Alan likes that salad. I think it's the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar that he likes along with the nuts and cranberries. And, of course, he really loves the blue cheese. 'Nuf said about that.

I was reading a book the other day, and bread and jelly seems to be "dessert" in some cultures. So I guess when mom didn't have junket, or pudding, or jello, dad would eat his bread and jelly for dessert. If we had junket, or pudding, or jello, or apple sauce, then he got a double dose, because he always ended his meal with bread and jelly.


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