Growing up, my family was pretty much standard for an early 70’s home. My dad worked and my mom stayed home with us. Us was me and one older brother and one younger brother – all separated by 6 years. Like I said, we were pretty standard for the times; blended family and all. Sometimes, it was just like a bad sitcom gone terribly wrong.
Dinner time was no exception. Everything always started out the same. One of us kids would set the table while dinner was cooking. We’d sit down and one of us kids would say the same prayer we always said: “God is great, God is good…” and then we’d pass the food and eat.
Every single day, dinner would proceed exactly the same. My dad would listen to the news while we ate. He’d get angry, sometimes, about what was going on in the world. Very often, we had to “shush” so he could hear the end of a news story or some bit he’d missed. I’m not sure if it was ever news related, but many nights our dinner time would go a very predictable route. South.
You see, my dad was a very conservative person. His music was old-fashioned, even then. He didn’t curse, and he did not understand opposition to the Vietnam War or sympathy for counter-culture groups, especially in his own home.
My older brother was in high school and for a time would only eat rice. Just rice. H
e also wore his hair long. You know, all the way to the top of his collar. Hippie long. He would also have been very happy to have joined the Symbionese Liberation Army and been part of the whole Patty Hearst kidnapping.
So, dinner would go south starting with my dad asking, “Why don’t you go to the barber tomorrow?” and my brother responding with some scathing comment in the negative. Then, “You look like a hippie, you better get your hair cut, or else” and my brother saying even more. The parry and thrust would continue until my dad would leave the table in anger, slam out the back door and go do some manly thing somewhere while my brother would leave the table in anger, slam into his bedroom and listen to Pink Floyd. You know, typical dinnertime for every family.
One evening, right in the middle of all this, my dad turned and saw my baby brother (who was 4 or 5 at the time) was not eating his broccoli. Naturally, we had to eat everything on our plate. Broccoli was not anyone’s favorite. Nobody would eat it and we really hated to get caught not eating it. My dad demanded my baby brother eat the broccoli, all the while the haircut fight rages on. “Eat the broccoli. Get a haircut”; it was tense.
Just at the apex of the unwinnable fight, my baby brother succumbs and eats his broccoli. Immediately, the broccoli returns to the table in a projectile and gushing manner. Every one of us stopped and stared for what felt like minutes, but was likely just one second frozen in time.
Suddenly, Dad threw his napkin on the table and slammed the back door on his way out. My older brother slammed his bedroom door and turned on his stereo and my mom tried to pretend nothing had happened.
There I sat with vomit, tears and anger all around. I decided that since my brothers
were bad, I would be good and make everyone happy. I would eat the broccoli. All of it. Despite the fact that I couldn’t swallow it without gagging.
Bowl of broccoli in front of me, I ate and ate and ate. I gagged and gagged and gagged . With each successive bite, the gagging got worse and I was not sure I could finish. Finally, the bowl was empty and, victoriously, I felt more than a little self-righteous and better than both my brothers. I looked up for the accolades that I knew would be awaiting me.
Nobody had even noticed. Not a soul. My dad was still outside, my older brother was in his cave, my younger brother had escaped and my mom was too sad. I had eaten all that broccoli for nothing.
As an adult, I truly love broccoli, but I can’t ever eat it without remembering my childhood dinner table and in particular, that one night. When I think of all those nights, I know that my family was really pretty standard for the time and I really love that we all ate dinner together every night … well, at least started at the same time.