Growing up I shared my favorite family dinners with my dad and his brother. I moved into their little apartment senior year of high school. It was a relief from the chaos of living with my mom who couldn’t care for me anymore. Their predictable world was just what I needed. Every item had a place and every routine was reliable.
I got in the habit of making dinner and taught myself to cook a few things. Chicken Parmesan and a simple iceberg salad was my favorite meal to make followed by spaghetti and meatballs. My Uncle T had an enormous stove coated in shiny white enamel. The edges and handles were curved like the contours of an old Cadillac. It was a 1935 Chambers, the Bentley of stoves, but it was tough to manage. Uncle T demonstrated how to light the burners without an explosion. Everything relied on double-action metal levers that took me a while to master. For the first few months, it went like this: light a match, double shift, edge the match to the burner and brace yourself for a blast of flame.
The three of us ate dinner together most weekday nights in the dining alcove that branched off the living room. It had floral wallpaper above the chair rail and an elegant chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling. The table was anchored by four upholstered walnut chairs. I set the table using one of two sets of place mats: the plastic rectangles with coated scenes from the Georgetown University campus or the spongy olive-green ovals that were hard to clean because they were porous. We used Vanity Fair dinner napkins, Noritake china, and fancy stainless steel flat-ware at every sitting. A green porcelain bowl, sitting on silver footings, rested in the center of the table flanked by crystal candle sticks. We drank Tab and iced tea from glass tumblers etched with flying geese.
We had nice little chats about our day, and I was happy. Whenever I think about the meals we shared, I smile inside and out. Family Dinner is the centerpiece of my family now. Loving the ritual started with them.