Dinner is supposed to be family time, but what family is has changed, and so has the time we spend with family. Certain conventions start to feel like prison, but some are useful. I don't want to make it sound as if my father was the dictator of The Crooked Little House, as Mom called it. My dad loved animals and nature, hunting and fishing. From both of my parents I learned about loving animals. Dad never discouraged me about my writing and reading. When I was fourteen, he and Mom gave me an old manual typewriter that my aunt gave away. Mom found me an old typing book with drills. She had used the book when taking accounting and typing classes years before. My parents were relieved I was smart, but very disappointed that I hated school, frequently truant. This became a real sore point between Dad and me. When I dropped out, we didn't speak to each other for a while. He threatened to kick me out of the house once. I wonder if I just did it because all of my brothers had graduated with their classes, wanting to make Dad happy. I didn't feel it was my responsibility to make Dad happy; what did he care? I was the inferior female, with no potential, just as useless to him as my mother. He seemed surprised by the chip on my shoulder.
Dinner, by the time my brothers left home, was a tense experience between my parents and me. I would just shut up and eat, staying at the table to placate my father. They were snapping at each other a lot. In another year, Dad would be dead, the victim of a work-related accident that would take his life without time to say good-bye. In the months leading to his death, with only the three of us, he no longer could take his frustrations out on my brothers, but the laughter and warmth was missing as well. We were three people with little to say to each other, at the dinner table or anywhere else, although I didn't miss the anger and verbal abuse. Dad was only four years older than me when he died, and that reality has been sneaking up on me lately, an unwelcome reminder of my mortality. In spite of the pain or anger, I would give almost anything to be at that dinner table again, eating with my parents and my brothers, watching Dad spread butter on a slice of bread, wiping his plate clean. :)