Meals and More

One of the young ladies at the meal, now off to college

Three conversations swirled at once. This little sub-group talking about the meal in front of us, that one discussing school, and one person chatting on a phone about who knows what. This was no formal dinner; this was a family – somewhat estranged, but civil and connected still – sharing a meal with three old friends, a a couple and me, people who had known the family for years, watched its two daughters progress from toddlers to young women, intelligent, inquisitive, and confident women,  easily conversing on a wide range of topics.

For a moment, part of me detached from the exchange at hand – the one about food – and took in the larger scene. This was the kind of household I’d always wanted, as a kid and as a married person. I wish my parents had had interesting, erudite friends who came over regularly, watched me grow up, fueled my curiosity about the arts or politics or whatever. I wish my home with the Fex had been similar, with a constant stream of friends and friends of friends stimulating laughs, arguments, passions.

I don’t remember my parents ever having any friends over for dinner. Not friends that I felt like I knew too, had a history with, who had seen me grow up and develop into my own person. Maybe not friends of any kind. Our was not the swirling-conversation kind of house. That’s OK.

I don’t hold some lifelong grudge, because of that long-ago dinnertime shortcoming. The reality was, both my parents worked. My father worked two jobs. Dinner was not a time for deep reflection on the state of the world or other topics of import. I don’t know if there was ever much talk about topics of import; surely not the arts or politics. That’s just not who we were, as a family. But I think I caught a glimpse of that when I ate over some of my friends’ homes, and saw that dinner could be a time for reasoned reflection – or silliness that unites siblings and parents. I don’t remember a lot of silliness either at our meals, unless I supplied it, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not.

At my friends’ the other night, I saw the bond of parents with children, sibling with sibling, adult (or almost-adult) children with family friends. The ease of it all was warming. OK, there was a slight weirdness to the proceedings, in my mind anyway, since the mother and father of the house are separated, for quite some time now. But even with that, there was a level of comfort and camaraderie as they came together to invite old friends into the house they used to share.

Two of three youngsters now off in the work force - most likely making more than I am.

The tie that still binds them, the estranged parents, is their kids, and seeing the girls I have known for so long, now in college or soon to be, made me think, again: I have amazing friends. Almost to a couple, all have faced divorce and other vicissitudes. And all have raised great kids. Smart kids, talented kids, polite kids. Kids really no longer “kids”; adults now, whom I can joke with and talk to as adults, who seem to accept me for me, and not just as “My parents’ friend.” Kids, for the most part, I’ve known since they were born. Really amazing kids.

Another child I know, now an amazing artist

Yes, I wish I could’ve created that dinnertime revelry and ease in my household. But for many reasons, I have no kids. Now, with the IMD, it’s just as well. But even without kids, we, the Fex and I, could have cultivated cultured dinners, yes, had our creative and intelligent friends over for sparkling, casual meals; not fancy gourmet repasts centered around some sense of pseudo-decorum, but raucous, laugh-filled affairs, anchored with simple and satisfying food – like the one of last week.

Well, no. You see, I was informed early on that the Fex did not like having people over her/our house. (Of course, as I’ve recently learned, that urge to keep people out of her living space extended to me as well…) My annual holiday party was a concession, though that affair was too sprawling for the kind of intimate dinners I would have preferred on a regular basis, ones in which you open up your home, yourself, to others. To share food and company and laughter and ideas on a small scale, knowing the guests will reciprocate some day, with or without their kids. And everyone will leave as I did after that recent dinner, with full belly and glowing heart and the knowledge that there are people in the world who care about you.

That was a good things to remember during these tough times, and if I didn’t always have the dinners I wanted in the past, I know now I can create them in the future. With, I hope, a like-minded partner by my side, who will bring her friends into the social mix, cross-fertilizing new friendships and meaningful connections.

There are lots of solo meals now; too many for my liking. But there will be more with friends, with their kids, with the people I care about. The best kinds of dinners.

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~ by mburgan on October 16, 2010.

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