I grew up in Waterloo Region, in southern Ontario. The area is known for its Mennonite and German culture. That cultural background and a need to economize explains the “eccentric” items that were served up at dinner time in our 1960’s household.
- Beef liver
- Pigtails roasted in sauerkraut
- Ham hocks, ditto
- Sweet breads
- Pickled tongue
Sure we had hotdogs, and Campbell’s tomato soup, and Velveeta. Remember Velveeta? And now and again, a roast chicken or pot roast, and always a turkey or ham during the festive seasons. But on occasion, when the cash flow stopped flowing, we ate… offal.
Money was tight. Dad’s business was on the skids and mom worked as a bookkeeper for a small plumbing firm. This was before she snagged the job as office manager at the high school. Mom prided herself on feeding us three squares a day. She took her job of provider seriously. I can only guess that my dad felt conflicted about that. In the 50’s and 60’s, the man of house was supposed to be, well, the man. To make up for what he could not contribute to the household money-wise, Dad put himself in charge of law and order.
If you’ve read my introduction to Howard you will recall that meals were the only times we got together as a family. I don’t remember any that were boisterous and lively. Not in the good sense of those words, that is. The focus was on eating what was put in front of us, dammit. Dinner time, as you can imagine, was usually fraught with tension.
I’m not the only child of an authoritarian father. Many are familiar with the parenting style of the day:
Eat your peas, there are children in Biafra who are starving.
or when we pulled a face or otherwise resisted the stinking stuff before us, we were commanded to
Eat it! It’s a delicacy!
As if that would make any difference! We were kids! 5, 8, and 9-year-old kids. Velveeta, now that’s a delicacy. This? This is offal, as in A.W.F.U.L. Besides, who serves children green peas with pearl onions and expects them to appreciate the flavour? It’s an adult delicacy. An acquired taste.
By now tempers are thinning and he moves from gentle admonishment to threats.
You will do as you’re told, or there will be no television tonight! Eat your god damned dinner!
Mother says nothing. She continues to eat, but says nothing. Our faces redden. We squirm in our seats. There might be a sniffle or two.
Stop your crying, or goddammit I will give you something to cry about!
We make feeble, fearful pokes at the food. We take a bite, and spit the wretchedness back on the plate.
The man at the head of the table – he with the shame and bitterness and the desire to do what’s right but he cannot because he is just not equipped to deal with these three and a wife whom he loves but has disappointed – he who would rather be anywhere than in this role as head of house, with all of the responsibility and none of the power, all of the power and none of the wisdom – he strikes.
The closest, my youngest brother is hauled up, literally by the scruff of his neck and pummelled. Walloped. Beaten. Dad jams him back into his chair.
Dad stands there, trembling.
He says nothing. Mother says nothing. Dad returns to his seat.
We eat our peas.
Family Dinner sketch from Free Vintage Digital.
Categories: Mom and Dad