Every night at 5:00 I would make sure my parents had their dinner. Five was dinner time since I was a kid.
Sometimes we would go out to dinner, always a rigmarole because my mother would want us to pick the restaurant even though she would only go where she wanted, forcing us to guess what she was in the mood for that night, and sometimes she would insist on me going out for takeout, but usually, I cooked.
My father was always grateful for whatever you gave him to eat, and he was also very generous, wanting to share. I always had fruit ripening in the house and he was very happy when he could give some to my sister, the kind and loving act of an big heart. When I had a friend she would often be hesitant to join my parents at a restaurant, but there was nothing my father loved more than as many people as possible around a table, sharing the food he provided.
My sister would call and ask if there was a place for her at dinner and my father would always start to smile, assuring her that she was always welcome at the family table.
My mother, though, wasn’t one to be satisfied with much. When my mother was in the hospital, my father would wait to eat until I came home, wanting to sit with me and talk, but when my father was in the hospital, my mother would tell me what she wanted and then happily eat in front of her shows.
Dinner time was regular and crucial in my family, a real routine all my life.
And I miss it. I miss the shopping, the planning, the focused hour I used to get the meal on the table. I miss delighting people, miss seeing them enjoy whatever surprise I put on the table. I’m not one of those cooks who has a week’s worth of recipes and churns through them, rather I cook with whatever is a value this week.
My mother used to stop after church and buy whatever markdown meat she found that looked good, like when she shopped once a week and proteins were frozen, but it meant I had to plan around what she found. I liked to cook fresh, which my father got to understand. My mother once said I should have more frozen vegetables and my father said “Why? We get so many fresh ones.” Even when he was misdiagnosed with aspiration pneumonia caused by dysphagia in the hospital, I processed cantaloupe and fruit everyday, our speech pathologist knowing we were a team.
I miss having people to care for, and I miss having people I knew well enough to give them one more meal, one more family time. The rituals around dinner, of sharing time and food with each other, well, that was nourishing to me more than just physically.
Even today, without a working kitchen sink for the past six months, I will still try to make dinner for my sister when she chooses to let me know she is coming, once every couple of months or so. Most of the time, though, it’s a high-value food product based dish that I can portion out over the course of a day or two.
Food may not be love, but the sharing of it certainly is.
It’s been a long year and a half.