Week 32: Dinner Time. On a typical childhood evening, who was around the dinner table? Was the meal served by one person, or was it a free-for-all? What is dinner time like in your family today?
I remember being three years old. My parents and I ate dinner together while my younger sister, Pearl, played in her playpen, wearing her favorite fuzzy blue hat. The dinner table was in the living room/dining room of the parsonage of St. John’s Congregational Church where my father was the minister. I used to hide my food under my chicken wing bones because I was never very hungry. I thought nobody noticed.
When my sister was older, the four of us ate meals together. We moved to Detroit when I was 4 and lived in two other parsonages. In the one on Atkinson we had a small dining room and ate there for all meals. My father’s parents lived down the street and he was often there for dinner leaving my mother, my sister and me eating alone.
The dining room on Atkinson. My mother is standing. You can see the back of my father’s head. His brother Louis is on the left. His brother Hugh is on the right and you can just see his sister Anna’s curl and chin. I guess Henry took the photo because he isn’t in it. I wonder why they are all at our table and where Pearl and I are. I remember those little fat turquoise salt and pepper shakers and the glass sugar and creamer. About 1952.
The next house, which was on Chicago Blvd, was huge and shared with the church. We always ate in the kitchen. My father teased me about being so skinny and told me I needed to eat more before I went down the bathtub drain or stuck in the chair because my bottom was so thin. When I was 8 years old I had my tonsils removed. I told my mother my fork wasn’t heavy any more. I started eating. There was roast beef and sliced tomatoes, chicken pot pies and oatmeal. I only remember eating one meal in the dining room. It was the Thanksgiving dinner right before my parents separated and we moved. My mother started teaching at the same elementary school I attended.
My mother, my sister and I moved to an upper flat on Calvert. What was supposed to be the dining room, was made into the television room and we ate our meals in the breakfast room while watching the pigeons nesting near the roof next door. We named one of them Bridie Murphy. We ate family style with bowls of food on the table that we served ourselves from. There was no free for all. “Please.” and “Thank you.” and “You’re welcome.” were expected and used. My mother cooked but my sister and I set the table and took turns washing the dishes and clearing the rack and table, usually with much whispering about who’s turn it was to do what. We whispered because my mother said she didn’t want to hear any arguing about it. I took cooking in junior high school and learned to make pineapple muffins which I made often. I remember fried chicken, mashed potatoes, jello salad and green beans.
When I was in 7th grade we moved to our own house on Oregon St. The kitchen was too small to eat in and we ate in the dining room which was pretty crowded with a piano, the dining room table and chairs and my mother’s desk (See photo below). My sister and I soon added cooking one meal a week to our dinner chores. I don’t remember what I cooked, aside from biscuits. I remember Pearl cooked a lot of hot dogs and corn bread.
My mother remarried when I was in high school and we all ate dinner together unless Henry was working late. He and my uncle Hugh had a printing shop at that time and often worked through the night. I remember Henry saying how important it was for a family to sit down to dinner together because it might be the only time of the day they spent together. As we got older there were interesting dinner table conversations about politics, what happened that day and more politics. Dinner continued to be a meal shared by all who were home as long as I lived there.
When I was raising my own 6 children we ate together, although my husband was often working and did not get to eat with us. We continued to have meal time discussions and to serve family style. Now that my children are grown with their own families and dinner tables, my husband and I eat still eat our meals together at the table. Television has never been a part of our mealtimes.