I got married at the ripe old age of 26. I was determined to be a good little wife for my husband, which included making dinner for him. Mom’s lasagna was a favorite, and to this day, he still laughs at the fact that I made 2 9×13 pans of it. For two of us. And I remember Scott saying he like pot pie, so I pulled out the good ol’ Cady cook book, and made the chicken pot pie out of it. We ate it for a week. I came by it honestly, though. Can you imagine the quantity of food needed to feed our pack? Let alone the hullabaloo of meal time in general…
I still remember playing down the street and hearing the dinner bell ring. That’s right, we had a dinner bell. Like on a farm to bring the cowhands in. And yes, I did just liken myself to a cowhand. We were trained to drop everything once that bell rang. I imagine that the neighborhood kids thought the Cady’s had some sort of alien telepathic connection to each other. On some unknown signal, the Cady kids would turn their heads to a sound unheard by human ears, their eyes would glaze over, and the swarm would return to the mother ship under some compulsion that was incomprehensible to those not of our species. But our ears were tuned into the chime of that bell in a way that our friends couldn’t understand. In true Pavlovian form, the bell rang, and we knew it was feeding time.
If you were really smart, you knew when dinner was nearly ready, and you stuck by the house. That way you were first to the dinner table. This was important for a number of reasons. We ate around a picnic table that Dad had made. Functionally, it was great. You could smash a whole bunch of people on the bench and didn’t need to mess with the wasted space that chairs created. Cheek-to-cheek as we were, you wanted to be there first to get the good seat, which was in the middle of the bench. This seems counter-intuitive, right? If you’re smashed in the middle, there are elbows coming at you from all sides. If you sit at the end of the bench, you’ve got a 50% less chance of an elbow to the eye.
But let me tell you a little about this dinner table. It was a picnic table which, prior to coming into the dining room, had spent its fair share of time out in the backyard. Now-adays, one could look at the table and said it was fashionably distressed. Sure, go ahead and think we were ahead of our time in home decorations. The only distress I, as a 6-year-old girl, understood was that of a splinter in my hind end.
Like I said, the prime sitting spot was smack dab in the middle of the bench. If you’re the first person to the table, don’t you even think about taking the end seat. You’re just going to be shoved over by the next person coming to the table (especially the youngest who needed to be put in her place often). A bruise received in the middle of the bench is just a moment of pain. A splinter is felt often, and it has to come back out anyway. Let’s just say Dad was none too gentle with the tweezers. As an added bonus, when sitting in the middle all the food is within reach, so you don’t have to worry about the fuzzy jello not getting down to you.
Also, if you were first to the table and nobody was there to snitch on you, you could look under your plate to make sure there wasn’t a sticker. More often than not, a sticker was the harbinger of the after dinner dishes responsibility. Nobody wants that. Of course, there were those times that Dad mixed things up, and the recipient of the sticker got first dessert. But the loss of a 1/30 chance of first dessert was worth it to evade having to wash all the dishes.
Mom (and therefore Dad), tried to raise us to be civilized humans. I know how to set the table properly. No elbows allowed at the table. Ask for people to pass things rather than reaching across. Knowledge doesn’t always translate to action, though. Pandemonium was regularly present. One of the parents was always admonishing Matt to save some “insert tasty item” for the rest of the family. As the youngest, I learned that if I wanted seconds, I needed to eat fast or there was no way I was going to get more of it.
Vegetables always consisted of corn, peas, or green beans of the canned variety. Sometimes, if it was a special occasion, we’d get broccoli. None of these were agreeable to my refined palette. I was a strictly raw carrots girl, or celery with peanut butter, if mom was feeling ambitious. My childhood self is proud to say that she could gag at the drop of a hat when forced to ingest green beans or broccoli, and many a dinner was spent sitting at the table after everyone had left in a power struggle with mom to eat my vegetables. Usually it ended with me retching into our 55-gallon kitchen garbage can (that’s right: we had an industrial-sized garbage can in our kitchen). Sometimes I was magnificently surreptitious, and the offending green would mysteriously end up on the floor (I never claimed to be known for my originality). The piece de resistance came when I found out that the table had supporting beam that you could hide food on. So when Mom was occupied with something else, I’d sneak a bite-sized amount onto that guardian girder, chew an appropriate amount of time and “wash it down” with some water.
I was pretty proud of myself, and doubly so because I had the forethought to occasionally clean out the rotting food (I imagine our house had an odor to which our nostrils were deadened). Did I share my discovery with my siblings? Heck no! It was every man for himself where only the strong survived. There was no way I was sharing this workaround so someone could either tattle on me, blackmail me, or inadvertently reveal the hideaway with a poorly executed slight of hand.
Nothing was ever quiet in our house, and dinner was no exception. There was lots of conversation and laughter. Nothing was ever burnt, it was only “licorice flavored.” You got a special prize if you found the pickle in the pancake. Mom and Dad weren’t afraid of letting the kids organize a “mystery dinner” where you might only end up with a spoon, a cup of Kool-Aid, some wonton noodles, a serving of peaches and rice. We laughed hard, we ate a lot, and to this day, food is the first thing planned when organizing a family get-together.