Friday, January 29, 2010

animal crackers and cocoa for supper preferable to some family dinners .....


Um, right now the kitchen is not "the cosiest place that I know." I'm still in the process of painting the combined kitchen and office in our home. It's slow-going, as I'm moving the desk, file cabinet, and computer/printer table around as I work in certain parts of what is not a large area to begin with. Today I just couldn't face it. There is a cloud cover that I can point to as a partial excuse for my lack of project gusto, but really I preferred doing other tasks today. Michael is planning on being in the office on Saturday so I hope that can be my big push.

I saw my favorite childhood book on the shelf last night and scanned this page. It is from THE BUMPER BOOK - A harvest of stories and verses for children, copyright 1947 (before I was born). Unlike many of my other books enjoyed around ages 3-7, this one has only one page with writing/drawing on it. On the front page of THE BUMPER BOOK I wrote "To Lydia" (except I used my first name) in brown crayon. This book's nearly-pristine condition must be a testament to my love for it.

Do you find it interesting that the drawing doesn't particularly indicate this as being the kitchen of a rich family, yet the boy's parents "dine later in state" (what kind of term is that?) with meal having been prepared by Mary the cook, and served by Susan the home waitress? All that after the boy dines in the kitchen on his favorite food, that lacks adequate nutrition as a steady diet, with Nurse standing by supposedly approving the meal! Good god what a quirky peek, truth or fantasy, at American life in the late 1940s-early 50s, while families are derided these days for not eating together as we did some decades ago.

Come to think of it, when I was a kid having this book read to me and reading it myself my sister and I did dine together in the kitchen with our combination babysitter-cook preparing, serving, and cleaning up while my mother worked her six-day shifts at Harold's Club in Reno. It's likely that I took this little verse totally at face-value then. It was only later, after our mother married our stepfather and they settled into more regular day shifts, that we sat together as a family for nearly every dinner for years. Think I have happy memories about this charmed family circle at table? Nuh-uh, I do not. My stepfather thought I was too thin and demanded that I clean up everything on my plate. I was made to sit chewing a final piece of beef until well after all the juices in the meat were gone, my small jaw was exhausted and my tongue raw from the dry meat scraping around my mouth. That happened night after night.

After we cycled through that particular youthful period and I moved on into my teens we came upon a time when my mother had left dealing in the casinos and had found herself -- found her self-esteem -- in progressively higher positions in the large office where she worked. That was great for her, but she felt that the family should be made to suffer through her entire eight-hour work day in a barrage of playbacks condensed into our family dinner time. It. was. miserable. for. me. I had my own world going on inside my head, my own agenda and interests, and I never forgave her for bulldozing over that hour of my day. Interestingly, some years ago I mentioned to my sister how awful those dinners with her office talk were and she said she hadn't felt that way. I'm sure there's a lesson in that for me but I haven't figured it out yet.

And you? Were you raised with family dinners around the table each night, or most nights? Is that something you have carried forward into your family life now? If so, does everyone share about their day, do you watch TV without conversation, or does one person usually run the conversation? Is eating together as important as family "experts" claim it to be? I'm just not sure.

In any case, the boy in THE BUMPER BOOK kitchen continues to celebrate his own good thing on through the ages and in doing so he brings delight to my heart . . .


I'm editing this after initial publishing in order to add a musical tidbit from Shirley Temple, who obviously is enjoying her dinner in a setting not of your family-gathering type.




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9 comments:

kj said...

Dear Lydia, such sadness to be a child and not come first. You have written this in such a simple and impactful way. I could be no fan of your stepfather...

I very much value family dinners. My daughter's work and family demands limit that for 3 year old mr Ryan, so when he is here for the weekend we make it a point to eat together. But one person dominating like your mother did? Not okay

xoxo

Nancy said...

We ate dinner at the table. I don't remember my dad doing all the talking, so I guess we must have shared our day. With my own family, we had dinner at the table, but now I eat wherever I want!

Lydia said...

kj- You are such a comforting soul! Thank you for your comments of support for my inner child...
My step-father and I definitely did not have a mutual admiration society. In his defense, the mealtime scene was as cruel as he ever was to me; and in my defense, I always showed him respect.
Ryan is a lucky little boy to have the balance in his life that you are there to give him!

Nancy- Interesting glimpse into your family life as time went by. And you are such a maverick now!

the watercats said...

Ahh.. family politics! there's no brighter place for it than seated round the table!
I have wonderful memories though of sitting down to dinner with my nan and grandad. On Sundays we would have a roast beef or lamb with vegetables from their garden and the special non-alcoholic fizzy grape juice which came out of a glass bottle and made me feel so grown up. I don't really remember sitting down with my parents, we were more of a family of tray on your lap in front of the t.v.
Now we sit down at the kitchen table maybe three nights a week and the rest of the time it's in front of the tele. It's a really nice time at the table, we laugh and catch up with each other... hopefully the kid will have good memories :-)

Lydia said...

the watercats- I just gave my husband a little backrub while telling him about your comments today and also the story about your girlhood pony experience you wrote at your blog. He enjoyed them. From all indications I have no doubt that your kid will have marvelous memories of your family mealtime. Good for you for caring about things like that! :)

Jennifer said...

Ooh. Family dinners. Don't get me started. Some of mine were similar to yours -- although my stepfather simply didn't talk when I was at the table, unless it was to complain about me. And then I started eating alone after Kevin came around.

But my present-day family? We have dinner together every night, a tradition I intend to keep going, and my son is more and more a part of the conversation. It isn't idyllic, but it's pretty damn nice.

Lydia said...

Jennifer~ Re: first paragraph -- ugh, I relate, although I never took it upon myself to eat alone (I'm not sure I'd have been allowed to do that).
second paragraph -- That makes me very happy! Your son is the beneficiary of ..... tradition. More power to you for claiming the time together and making it Nice and Normal!

Jennifer said...

Well, I never took it upon myself to eat alone. My mother started having dinner at Kevin's place and I wasn't invited and then I lived in the Little House after that where I did pretty much everything alone. I wouldn't recommend it. I'm glad to be changing the pattern. (And just remembered another bizarre mealtime thing: being made to stand *regularly* at the table when we lived with John the M. I was three, there were only two chairs and that was his solution.) Sorry to go on -- clearly this stuff still bothers me, because I think it still has an effect. Hmmm. What to do about that one?

Lydia said...

Jennifer~ Forgive me for not attending to your comment much earlier.
When I first commented I wasn't even thinking about the Little House. Of course you ate alone there.....
It was horrible for you to be excluded from dinners at Kevin's place, and probably even more cruel to be forced to stand by John the M. I become furious when I think of all you endured, and no wonder it still has an effect on you. I think your writing about it is key to perhaps one day feeling healed, but maybe some therapy centered around your childhood would be good for you. Maybe you've already gone that route...
In any case, the love and security you provide for your son is an absolutely beautiful expression from your gentle spirit.

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