Sunday, February 19, 2006

When it was time for dinner - you headed home

Dinner on the beach
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
JAMESTOWN, N.Y. - The days are finally getting a little longer. Those pre-5 p.m. sunsets were just awful in December and early January.

But it all reminded me of trudging home from wrestling practice and by sometime in March, coming home from those early track workouts held inside the high school because of the snow still on the ground.

Anyone else remember the shin splints we used to get running on the hard floors?

Tonight though, as I was figuring out what time Admiral Fox and I would have dinner, I thought back to growing up when at my house, dinner was at 5:30 p.m. That was 5:30 p.m. every day of the year, except for Christmas and Thanksgiving, when we would either trundle to a relative's house or host the entire Fitzgerald-Puls-McAvoy-Mattison clan at our casa. Still, even on those days, I could see my grandmother starting to fidget if dinner was served any later than 6 p.m.

The time for dinner was 5:30 p.m., by God, and if I was at some athletic practice, well, I ate alone later, in the kitchen, while my grandmother stood at the sink waiting for me to finish so she could swoop up the dishes, wash them and get them back safely in the cupboard.

It was heathenish to miss that 5:30 time, but it was an excused absence.

If I was out on the lake in the summer, or still at Jamesway trying to decide what treasure to buy, or just shooting the bull with Bud Hooper a block away, well, tough nuggies. The Fitzgerald family (my mother, grandmother, and sister) went ahead and had the meal at 5:30 p.m. on the dot.

What I got later was hell for not showing up at 5:30 p.m., because, that's when dinner was served. My mother bought me several wrist watches growing up with the clear directions that I was to get home by the appointed Fitzgerald dinner hour. I still have the Boy Scout watch - it keeps perfect time 40-plus years later.

I don't remember other families being as anal-retentive about dinner time, though I knew that when Derwood Hooper or Art Carlson got home, dinner was served pronto. Not that I actually witnessed that, because my 5:30 get-your-butt-home time was much earlier than the dinner times at other homes.

Since sometime in the early 1970s - whenever the last time I ate dinner in my growing-up house in Lakewood before my mother passed away - I can say with some certainty I have not eaten dinner at 5:30 p.m. Been in middle of cocktails perhaps, but I have an aversion to ever eating as early as 5:30.

Raising my four children (Have I really survived four kids?), dinner was when dinner was. The only thing I tried to do was have everyone sit down all together for a family meal - whenver that could be accomplished. And we always had a toast at the beginning of the meal to some accomplishment of the day, something newsworthy or sometimes just to say thanks to whatever higher power was in our collective vogues that night. Politicians were routinely roasted in our evening glass-raising.

But there was one other slightly odd thing at my growing-up dinner table that suddenly comes back, too - a utter lack of salt or spices. There was no table salt. No basic NaCl. I vaguely remember a pepper shaker on the kitchen stove shelf - up high and dusty.

My grandmother had some kind of dietary problem with too much salt and thus, no food served on our dinner table was salted during cooking or on dinner plates. Salt was verboten, period, spices something I read about in history class.. It could've been worse, I suppose, she could've been a vegan.

The photo with today's blog is obviously not of anything from my childhood. It's from the tropics where people not only rarely eat their evening meal at 5:30 p.m., there's plenty of salt available on the table, perhaps even on the rim of glass justed used to toast the sunset, certainly on the chips and salsa.

Must be somewhere near Margaritaville, where I'm going back soon to find my lost shaker of salt.