By Danny Tawil
Twice a year. That is how many times my family used my dining room table growing up. Twice a year my mom would be in the kitchen from 6am, until the moment our grandma would arrive around 2pm. Twice a year my mother would serve everyone and start cleaning before eating the food she cooked all day for. I recall pleading for her to relax, to sit down, and to eat. My mom is largely unappreciated in my household, and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who sees her stresses and struggles. Before I was a teenager, in the years where wanting to be around your parents all the time were high, I always felt like I was missing out on something grand. I would see families on the television eating a beautiful meal together, and having the time of their lives together. My friends would all have to be home by 5pm for a home cooked dinner with their family. What did I have in retrospect? A struggling family that ate at different times of the day, because we couldn’t make time to eat together. I will forever blame the entertainment industry for engraining the perfect dinner, with your family, into my head. Not all families are alike, and it causes emotions to stir when you see it as a constant on television, but lack it at home.
Growing up, my family has always been a little different. My father had an accident the year before I was born, and could not walk without a cane. Surprisingly the doctors had told him he could not walk at all, but that did not stop him. Today he’s walking like any other father, without his cane, that disappeared a decade ago. Since my father was handicapped, he couldn’t do much around the house, or work. Looking back on my life, it must have been tough on my mother. She worked all the time, made food for our family, and made sure we were getting what we needed when she came home from work. Whenever we would have guests coming over, she would clean all day and night, for a week straight, just for a few hours of company. I would attempt to help her whenever I could, and also badgered the rest of my family members to help as well. I found it odd when growing up, that the only time we ever sat at the dining room table was when we had guests over. I vaguely remember telling my mom on my 11th birthday that all I wanted was for our family to have a meal on the dining room table. It was one of the best birthday experiences I had always wanted to eat as a family, and share our lives with each other, regardless of how insignificant our days were. In popular entertainment families are seen eating at the table, sharing their day’s experience. I never knew how so many people could find the time to sit down and eat together. They obviously have one parent stay at home, and the other have a 9-5 job. Unfortunately if you are not in a family that is upper middle class or even remotely rich, the idea of having your full family sit at the table is far fetched. Where do people get the time? How much effort needs to be made for all of the meals to be eaten together?
I recall a time when my mother woke up at 5 in the morning, and started to prepare the food for dinner. I helped make a sauce my family calls toom, which is essentially oil, garlic, and an abundance of lemon. Being of what little help I could be for my mom, I would always set the table, trying to make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible. After hours of my mom being in the kitchen, it was finally time to sit down and eat. There was rice with minced meat and pine nuts, my favorite, which we call hashweh. Accompanying the hashweh, was labneh, which is essentially sour yogurt.We also had tabouli, which is also one of my all time favorite arabic dishes made of minced parsley, diced tomato, and some godly lemon sauce. Eating an arabic dinner at the table usually involved a lot of food, and a lot of debate. If someone was not arguing about politics and the views on Arab people, then we were arguing about the drama some random woman from church told my father, who then decided to tell everyone else, unfortunately. To me, that dining room table was sacred; like a timepiece of memories you cannot get anywhere else.
In my family, our meals have followed a pattern since I was a child. My mother, aunt, or grandma would cook for the entire family. The food would then get stored away in the fridge in bulk. Whenever we were hungry, we would grab a plate and serve ourselves, followed by heating it up in the radioactive box known as the microwave. We would then sit with our wooden tray tables in front of the television and watch cartoons. Our dining room table would be in the room next to us, mostly there for show, instead of actually being used. The table eventually became a storage space for items to be held in passing. My mother’s purse, or the house bills usually found their place there, as well as shopping bags, or random silverware that haven’t found their homes yet. It was rare for the light in the room to be turned on, but when it was, it was amazing. If the lights were on, it meant we had company coming. If we had company coming, it meant that we were going to actually eat at the table and enjoy a meal as a family. Although the children, including myself, were usually the first to be discluded from the table whenever bodies exceeded chairs.
Overall, eating at the dining room table has been something I have dreamt about and wished for growing up. I cannot be the only one whose family cannot make the time to get together and have a meal at the same time, same place. I have personal regrets from my childhood, that mostly stem from jealousy of other families. Twice a year, I would enjoy that family dinner. Twice a year I would take my place at the table. Twice a year, I would know what it felt to be united. Twice a year, I would have the best time of my life. Twice a year, I knew what priceless meant. Twice a year, I would add to my treasured memories. Twice a year.