Dinner: circa 1965
Dinner is a private excavation into family, a daily social interaction primeval. Dinner is a truce between Mom and Dad who chew their food while holding back opposite views on The War. It’s a lesson in etiquette: what to do when your mouth is full of stories and the phone rings and it’s your best friend and you’re not allowed to leave the table. What to do when the paper boy comes to your front door wanting payment for the latest front-page gore about the War.
Dinner is a mealtime prayer followed by a diatribe against student protesters and long-haired draft dodgers. Dinner is talk about the price of gas and groceries. Dinner is me asking my youngest brother to Please pass the milk and then saying Thank you.
Dinner is tuna casserole spooned like army rations onto Melmac. Dinner is Operation Rolling Thunder and watching Channel 9 news to hear a report on Viet Cong, communists, gooks, guerrillas, and GIs. It’s elbows off the table, chin off my plate, chewing with my mouth closed while listening to yesterday’s body count added to the sum from the day before. It is my oldest brother, his long, red hair dragging in beef gravy, tearing up his draft notice.
Dinner is whispers about friends of friends who bought a car with bloodshed money given to them in exchange for their son’s life. Dinner is me quibbling with Mom about whose turn it is to do the dishes. (Who will clear the table and who will wash and who will dry?)
Dinner, circa 1965, is a knock on the door and Marines bearing the news of a soldier’s death. Dinner, circa 1965, is a heavy body bag that is dragged through napalm jungle to decompose in front of us on the kitchen table. Dinner, circa 1965, is a family in a far-off village who sits down to eat bombs that have fallen from heaven into their bowls of rice.
Dinner: circa 2000
An immigrant family from a bombed-out village lives in the kitchen of my youth. The family eats dinner slowly, with mouths closed, wary of exposing battle scars, wary of choking on old bones that no one else can swallow.