My mom cooked a lot of spaghetti after my dad moved out. It was an easy meal and all of us liked it. I prefer minimal sauce on my pasta, so Mom always left the red stuff in a separate pot on the stove. Dinner was a help-yourself kind of thing: grab a plate, butter, bread, noodles, sauce, drink, etc. whenever you were ready and proceed to the table… eat, then put your dishes in the sink and return to your regularly scheduled activities. The spaghetti sat on the stove into the evening before Mom would begin packaging the leftovers.
And that was when it would happen. It was when Mom was getting ready to pack up the remains of our dinner that our real Family Dinner would take place. I suppose it was always the dog that got there first, because he was a dog, and it was food… but then my sister and I would make our way into the kitchen as well. What followed became a ritual which we spoke nothing of until it ceased several years later.
We’d gather around the stove and pinch clumps of noodles, dip them in the sauce, and then drop the sticky, saucy masses into our mouths. Everything was cold, and some of the noodles were beginning to harden. Yet, for some reason, everything tasted better in this post-prime state.
The stressful hustle-bustle of the day was over. We were relaxed and willing to talk. We chatted freely about the closing day, the day to come, the weekend, a test, work, the dog, the weather, etc. The topic of conversation didn’t matter. Specifically, I remember none of them.
What I do remember is that we were there together. We engaged without arguments, complaints or scolding. We weren’t bothered by leaky faucets. The messy state of the house wasn’t a concern.
It didn’t matter that there was no male at the head of our dining table. We talked with our mouths full and ate with our hands and that was OK too. It was just us: Quality Family Time at its best. And it was perfect, just like that.