Part of my obsession with cooking is the dinner table. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood where food was aplenty and a place at the table for a guest was a standard. I spent many nights at my friend’s home eating lavish suppers with everyone at the table. I recall the desire to have the same convivial atmosphere in my home when I grew up.
In my mom’s house, dinners with the family disappeared when my Grandparents moved into their own apartment. My parents’ work hours became longer. My brother and I had after school activities that brought us home after dark. My mother wasn’t much of a homebody so when Grandma and Grandpa moved into their own apartment we mainly had take out.
I remember my Grandparents fondly. My Grandparents can be likened to Peggy Sue’s Grandparents, warm, loving, all-knowing and kooky. They were from a different era, an era of innocence and civility. I occasionally get a glimpse of the era when I see elderly Jewish couples in the neighborhood. On Saturdays, I see them walking leisurely to the park. They’re dressed in suits and dresses as if a walk in the park is a special occasion. I remember walking with my Grandpa to the park on Saturday afternoons. He’d have his suit on with a matching fedora. He’d grab my hand and we’d leisurely walk to the neighborhood park. When we got there, there would be other older gentlemen smiling and enjoying the atmosphere. In the summer, a jazz band would play a concert. People would come out with their lawn chairs and listen and sometimes dance.
I’ve been thinking about the innocence of years past and I wonder if children of this day and age will get to experience it. There is something supremely wholesome about the past that I miss sometimes. Childhood innocence is not clouding my vision. There was something simply pure and natural.
Mealtime with my Grandparents provided me with that 50’s innocence. When I was a child, lunch with my Grandparents was promptly served at half past noon. Tea was served at 4 and dinner was served at 7pm. I knew to be home at those times. My Grandparents met me with a smile and we sat and enjoyed each other’s company. As I grew older and went off to college, lunches weren’t always together yet my Grandma kept a plate for me just in case. Sometimes, I’d come home and even though I had eaten dinner, I’d let her warm up a plate for me. I’d sit at my Grandma’s table as my Grandma sat on the opposite side. She’d have a Winston in her mouth, her leg propping up her cigarette hand and she’d ask me how my day was. As I filled her in, my Grandfather would be cataloging something in the living room. As you can surmise, the OCD came from my Grandfather's side of the family.He’d come out just in time for tea and make me promise to be home in time for Tea the next day.
If we have children, I hope to instill the same appreciation of the dinner table as my Grandparents have on me. Sharing a meal with someone is one of the most intimate things you can do. It can be leftovers or simple Mac and cheese from a box; it’s not what’s on the table but who’s at the table that matters.
This idea of dinner at a table seems odd in NYC where one barely has room for a table in one’s apartment but to me, it’s one of the most important parts of my home.