When I was a little girl, every Sunday after church one of two things would happen. We would either go out to eat afterwards, or we would go home to cook out. Dad would break open the grill, while mom prepared her amazing homemade hamburgers. As soon as you opened the fridge you were able to take in the aroma of garlic, onion and Worcestershire sauce on her burgers that had been marinating overnight. It was amazing.
Whether we were sitting around a table at Bennigans, or sitting around our kitchen table, it was family time. A time to recap the past weeks events, to catch up, good food and good conversation. At Bennigans, I would always order a burger. You can never go wrong with a good ole burger and fries. If I was feeling rebellious, I would order the chicken tenders.
To this day, whenever Joe and I go out to eat, I will order a burger or chicken tenders. I never stray. Well, there was that one time we went to Billy McHale’s and I thought to myself “Break out of the box, try something new.” Well, I kinda like my box. My big rebellious move was bacon wrapped prawns. Yeah, no. Never again. I mean I like bacon, and I like prawns. Just not together. I actually unwrapped the bacon from my bacon wrapped prawns, and ate it separately.
As us kids grew up, and went our own ways, those family dinners were few and far between. I mean we still made them happen, just not as often. I remember one year in particular, we were all living about two hours apart. It was the holidays, and my grandfather and his “wife” came to visit my parents. It was a given that my sister and I would be there. Not because we felt we had to, but because we wanted to.
Mom went all out with her infamous Italian feast. Plenty of pasta and fish to go around, along with all the sides. Beautiful breads, at least three different sauces, salads. You name it, she cooked it.
The kitchen was so busy. Mom was cooking, Dad was overseeing mom, Mom was getting annoyed because dad was over seeing her. My sister and I had little babies to watch over, my then husband was doing what he does best, nothing. My sisters husband was pretending he was engaged in some civil war magazine, my brother was helping me with my son. Grandpa and his “wife” were all like “Come, sit, sit, eat, manja, manja” As soon as my parents actually sat down, they would be right back up again. It may have been to grab an extra spoon, some more sauce, some freshly grated parm. My poor parents could not sit down and enjoy their meal.
I felt bad. This particular kitchen had a huge table and bench, that was able to fit about 6 people comfortable, 8 people cramped. Then there was a breakfast bar of sorts, that sat 2-4. My parents had planned on eating at the breakfast bar, while the rest of the family sat around the table. I did not like that. I mean here they are doing all the work. I was useless. I had to deal with a fairly new baby who I had no idea had to deal with. My husband at the time, AKA Num Nutts, was useless because he is stupid, not because he was a hands on dad. My sister had her hands full too, and my brother was just a kid, helping me with my kid. No one could help.
I finally told my parents “No, you guys sit at the table, we will sit here.” (breakfast bar) I may have actually thrown my son to my Num Nutts “husband” in the hopes that he would actually take a hint. Everyone was like “Oh, good idea Jen” Grandpa, again with is “Sit, eat, manja.”
And then I saw “The Look” from dad. You know the look, we have all done the look. The look that says “Okay, I am annoyed” but the words that come out of the mouth are oh so different. “Okay sounds good.”
It was only years later than I was able to understand that particular look. They wanted to sit at the breakfast bar, because then they were able to watch the family. Together my parents may have shared a knowing smile “Oh, Sarah is annoying Jen again” ( Sarah is the “wife” and in case you were not able to tell by my quotation marks regarding the “wife” I never liked her.) Or perhaps they were able to share the compliments on how good the meal was. They would be able to steal secret glances at each other, the kind where nothing needed to be said, but where each knew what the other was thinking. And, knowing them, they probably preferred to eat at the breakfast bar because it was easier access to get up and get anyone what it is they needed.
However, if I were to put money on it, I would venture to say they wanted to sit at the breakfast bar so they could take in and enjoy their family. Watch us all from a very close distance. Not knowing if or when we would be able to do this all again.
We never did. That was the second to the last time I say my grandfather. He passed away a few years later.
That dinner, that very hectic crazy dinner, where everyone was everywhere, the food, the aromas, even the “wife” and her annoying me, that will be forever in my heart. That was the last time everyone was together at the same time. Maybe, just maybe my parents knew that. Perhaps my grandmother was watching from above, telling my parents to take it all in and enjoy it in whichever way we can, because you never really know. had I kown, that that was the last dinner we would have together, four generations of Ortolano’s, I would have made it count more, Perhaps by doing my now infamous karaoke rendition of “In the Ghetto” by the one and only Elvis. or having my grandfather and dad do a Frank Sinatra song. Perhaps “My Way” would have been fitting?
Anyway, I just want to give a shout out to my parents. Thank you for the dinner, thank you for understanding, and thank you for watching over your family. I can only hope to be as good as you one day.