To say I was shocked would be an understatement of epic proportions. I was so surprised, I pulled the car over, stopped on the side of the road, and looked back over the seat in disbelief at what my granddaughter had just shared.
“He does what?!”
Little One’s sweet voice drifted up from the backseat to repeat her answer, still no less astounding, “He gets his food and goes up to his room to eat.” She was describing her teenage brother’s nightly dinner routine.
As I pulled back onto the road headed towards school, she added, “Except last night. Mom told him to sit down and have dinner with the family.” She giggled, “He thought he was being punished for something he did.”
After parking in the car line waiting for school to start, I told our two granddaughters the following story.
Things certainly have changed since my three brothers, The Sister and I were growing up back on Flamingo Street. Eating together as a family wasn’t a punishment — it was a requirement. Our parents made each dinner a time when we could talk about things that happened during the day.
Except we kids didn’t really want to talk about the things we did because we didn’t want to get into trouble. And trust me, if my parents had found out everything we did during those seven magical years spent growing up back on Flamingo, I’d still be grounded today.
Dad usually started off the conversation then went around the table asking each of us what we’d done while he was away at work. I was always glad he started with Older Brother Richard and ended with the youngest — me. That way, if I didn’t want him to know what I’d done, it gave me time to make up a good story. As much as they thought they wanted to know what my three brothers, The Sister, and I did during the day, if you asked any of us kids, we’d tell you Mom and Dad really didn’t want to know.
For example: our parents really didn’t want to know who took the coconut from the church’s back lawn luau display, used it as the football in an all-day street football game in the middle of July, and then encouraged all participants to crack it open, drink the milk, and then eat the soft white insides. It was great…until everyone got sick that night. None of us said anything around the dinner table, and our parents never found out how we got sick or, more importantly, who the thief was.
There were only a few exceptions to the rule of eating dinner together. First, if we got sent to our room before the meal was over. This occurred usually because we were arguing and wouldn’t stop. Arguing during dinnertime and not stopping after being asked three times earned you a one-way ticket to your room with your plate of food. There, you would sit and eat by yourself. None of us like doing this because we considered being away from everyone else a punishment.
Second, we wouldn’t eat with the family if we got sent to our room (without a dinner plate) and told we wouldn’t have anything else to eat until breakfast. Being sent to our room without finishing dinner was a rare occurrence and only happened due to the worst infractions.
Telling our mom that we didn’t like anything she cooked and weren’t going to eat it? That would qualify as such an infraction. Of course, none of us kids really ever went without dinner. Each of us had stashed away a little emergency bag of food just in case. Our stash of food was something we never told our parents about.
And finally, what was the third time we would leave the table without finishing dinner? If one of us got sick, we’d be asked to leave the table and Mom would follow us to our room and take care of us. This trip was soon to be followed up by saltine crackers and a few sips of Coke.
But all of us boys getting sick at the same time during dinner only happened once: the day I took that coconut from the church luau.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]