My mom cooked a lot of spaghetti after my dad moved out. It was an easy meal and all of us liked it. I prefer minimal sauce on my pasta, so Mom always left the red stuff in a separate pot on the stove. Dinner was a help-yourself kind of thing: grab a plate, butter, bread, noodles, sauce, drink, etc whenever you were ready and proceed to the table… eat, then put your dishes in the sink and return to your regularly scheduled activities. The spaghetti sat on the stove into the evening before Mom would begin packaging the leftovers.
And that was when it would happen. It was when Mom was getting ready to pack up the remains of our dinner that our real Family Dinner would take place. I suppose it was always the dog who got there first, because he was a dog and it was food… but then my sister and I would find our way into the kitchen as well. (Or just me, if my sister was already in bed.) What followed became a ritual which we spoke nothing of until it ceased several years later: We’d gather around the stove and pinch clumps of noodles, move them to dip in the sauce and then to our mouths. Everything was cold, some of the noodles were beginning to harden. Yet, for some reason, everything tasted better in this post-prime state. The stressful hustle-bustle of the day was over. We were relaxed and willing to talk. We chatted freely about the closing day, the day to come, the weekend, a test, work, the dog, the weather.
The topic of conversation didn’t matter. Specifically, I remember none of them. But I remember that we were there and we were engaged with each other. We weren’t bothered by our leaky faucets or the messy state of the house or the fact that there was no male at the head of our table. We talked with our mouths full and ate with our hands and that was OK too. It was just us: Quality Family Time at its best. And it was perfect, just like that.