Family Dinner

Freedom from Want, by Norman Rockwell

My extended family loves to tell stories. We sit around late into the night telling and retelling the same stories every time we get together. It is my favorite thing in the world. On this special occasion I thought I’d share one with you. It belongs to my father, but resides deep in my heart.

My dad comes from a family of nine kids—six boys and three girls. It is a Norman Rockwell-esque type family. The kind that you can envision in any brightly colored Americana painting, where the adults resemble heroes–big, handsome, and strong– and freckles dot the sincere smiles of children’s scrunched noses. My dad is the fifth child in his Rockwellian family and exhibits relatively few attributes of middle child syndrome. He is obedient, kind, content, easy going, and tender. He is almost the perfect child.

Almost.

One of the stories he tells is of the time when he wasn’t perfect. It was Sunday dinner one night in his youth. The whole family was sitting around the large dinner table. Kids were passing the rolls, teasing each other, dribbling the gravy, and bickering over some unimportant inequality. On this occasion he did something wrong. He can’t remember what, he always says, but he got caught.

“Eric” my grandpa yelled “get over here.” My dad pushed his chair from the table and walked over.

“You can either get a spanking right now and finish the meal or go to your room for the remainder of the night” my Grandpa said matter-of-factly.

“I’ll go to my room” my dad remembers saying obstinately.

“Fine.” Grandpa replied.

My Dad walked down the stairs, but didn’t go to his room. He sat at the base of the doorway listening. At first he was still uncompromising. Lips pursed, arms folded. But something happened as he remained there eavesdropping. He heard them having fun. He listened as they chaotically talked over one another. He heard them laughing about a comment he had missed, a story that he wasn’t a part of. He longed to be the recipient or origin of that joy.

As my dad retells this part, four decades later, he has tears in his eyes. He remembers running up the stairs and begging his dad, “I changed my mind.”  His words falter, heavy with emotion and nostalgia. “Please, give me a spanking. I just don’t want to miss out on anything else,” his younger self begs.

It wasn’t Thanksgiving Day, yet in a way, it was.

From ours, to yours. Have a Happy Thanksgiving Day.

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2 Responses

  1. jks says:

    Cute.

    I was an introvert and I remember asking if I could just skip Sunday dinner (and the required help preparing and cleaning up) but my parents wouldn’t give me the option. If I liked the food dinner was worth it. But I didn’t like my family’s Sunday dinner menu.
    On the whole, though, family dinner was so important growing up and I am grateful for it. My husband came from a TV during dinner family and after we married it (and before tivo) it was too easy to have dinner on the couch. I loved moving to our current house where the tv is nowhere near the table and we have had real family dinners for 7 years so I am giving my kids the family dinners I dreamed of…….asking about people’s day, teaching them about politics and the gospel and history, laughing together, discussing the upcoming evening or the week. Just awesome.

  2. nat kelly says:

    Ah, this makes me miss my family. Missing out is the worst!

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