My mother prepared dinner every night for my dad, my brother and me. Meat, potatoes, Birds Eye frozen vegetables. Once in a while a fresh salad. But in those days, fresh vegetables, especially in the winter, were hard to come by. I can still see my mom with her white and red flowered apron tied around her waist, bustling around the kitchen, getting everything ready so she could run to the train station to pick up my father.
He came home from the city (New York) on the 6:18 LIRR train. The three of us sat in the car at the Roslyn station and watched the passengers (mostly men) disembark, looking for the tall, handsome man in his brown Brooks Brothers overcoat and matching fedora that was my father. When he saw us, my mother got out of the car and moved to the passenger seat so he could drive. My brother and I sat quietly in the back seat waiting to see what would unfold. If dad had been in the Bar Car with his buddies, his voice had a gruff cadence than made me nervous. I often got a stomach ache before dinner.
We sat in a dining booth in the kitchen of our Levitt house. I picked at my food because it hurt to eat it. My dad would yell at me to eat. “Your mom slaved over this for you and your brother,” he’d say. Or something like that. “Eat it!” Sometimes he’d ask me to go find the Tabasco Sauce for him, something he put on everything he ate before he even tasted it. If I couldn’t find it, he’d say I couldn’t find my head if it wasn’t attached to my shoulders. Often, I got up from the table and ran into my room, slammed the door and cried in my pillow, wishing he were dead.
On rare occasions, when things had gone well at work and he hadn’t had too much to drink on the train, he’d bring home petit fours from Horn and Hardart’s or delicious donuts from Mary Elizabeth’s. And on the weekends he’d go to the bakery and deli after his tennis game and bring home bagels and lox and cream cheese. On weekends he made up for all his bad behavior during the week, and I made up for all the meals I didn’t eat during he week.
Needless to say, family dinners have not been a high point of my adult years. Although when I was first married to my first husband and he was an intern at a hospital here in Oakland, on 36 hour shifts, I tried. I would get up at 5 in the morning and prepare a gourmet meal that we shared before he disappeared for all those hours. Then I would bring him dinner in the doctor’s lounge when they gave him a half hour break in the evening. But I didn’t really like cooking, and he didn’t really like Western medicine, and we didn’t really like being married. So you can see where this was headed.
To this day, I do like bagels and lox, though. And I’m very good at preparing it!