When one of my grandkids was about ten or so, he was forever asking me to tell him what my life was like when I was his age. Once, while he was munching on a piece of pizza, I told him, “You know, pizza was not invented until I was an adult.” His look indicated utter disbelief. The next question was what kind of fast foods DID we have when I was a kid. I proceeded to tell him that the only fast food we had was when Bubbie boiled hot dogs on Saturday nights before the poker players gathered. On other nights we had big home-cooked meals which took many hours to prepare. “And,” I told him, “we didn’t eat in front of the radio because it was never turned on during dinner. We sat down at the kitchen table to eat but only when all family members had arrived home.
I described to him how, at the table, we took turns talking about the day’s happenings while not forgetting to compliment Bubbie on her fabulous cooking. No one dared leave as much as a crumb on their plates, it being the law. The rationale behind this was that “the people in Europe are starving.” I could never understand how my finishing my dinner would help those poor souls in that far off country, but, if Bubbie said it, it must be true.
Something else that puzzled my grandson was when I told him that everyone had to ask permission before they could leave the dinner table. He wondered why this was necessary. Most of the time, his family members didn’t eat as a group. So who do you get permission from when you’ve eaten alone?
During the school year, a favorite topic at our table was what we were learning and if we had behaved ourselves. If a teacher called about improper behavior, my folks would become very angry and Bubbie might even wring her hands. She didn’t like any of us to stand out from the crowd unless it was for something good.
After dinner, my father retreated to his favorite chair to read the paper and smoke his pipe. When dishes had been washed and put away, my mother would join him. Sometimes she played popular songs on our upright piano and sometimes she would knit. Bubbie, sitting in “her” chair, always had some kind of needlework in her hands which would eventually be a present for someone. We kids were nearby, too, doing homework or reading. Thinking back on the scene, it could very well have been a subject for a Rockwell painting.
My grandson thought about all this for a bit and, with a bewildered look, finally asked, “When did you watch television?” The biggest shock undoubtedly came when I informed him that there wasn’t TV until I was in high school. Being the genius that he is, he didn’t bother to ask about video games.
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