We ate dinner at the antique oak table. Vic’s stepfather had given it to us when we bought our home in 1972. We each had our place—me closest to the kitchen, David to my left, Anthony across the table, and my husband Vic to my right. Vic and I had the sunset views, but the kids didn’t mind.
We made it a point to have dinner together, give thanks, and share food and the day’s events. I made a big salad and a vegetarian entrée, often Italian with vegetables from our garden. My family loved pasta. I never convinced them of the superiority of brown rice, although I tried.
For fifteen years, Vic wasn’t home three nights a week, so the kids and I had dinner without him. No one sat at Vic’s place.
After our sons left home, we clung to our habit, Vic in his spot and me in mine. When David and Anthony visited, they still had their preferred spot at family dinners.
The plan began to crumble after Vic was diagnosed with cancer. I still prepared and shared dinner with him in his hospital room, on the stem cell transplant ward, or anywhere he had to be. Then that disintegrated, too.
“Don’t try to talk me into eating,” Vic said quietly.
I hadn’t tried, had I? OK, maybe a little. “I made your favorite. Would you like a little snack?” He was sick. He suffered. I wanted to comfort him with food he loved, and his good appetite comforted me. No appetite was an alarming sign among many bad signs.
“OK,” I said. “I’ll make food you like. Then you can choose whether or not you want to eat it.”
During that last month, he sometimes asked for minestrone soup or tapioca pudding. I warmed small servings in his favorite sapphire bowl. More often, he couldn’t eat, so I sat by myself, tense, silent, and sad. It felt wrong to eat when he couldn’t. Everything felt wrong.
After Vic died, I couldn’t bring myself to sit at the dining room table. I didn’t use the table on the deck either, since we had our places there, too. I ate on a stool in the kitchen or on the back porch or on the floor by the woodstove when winter came. I shoveled food in like a barbarian and often forgot to pray. Food filled the hole of longing for Vic and family, for silly jokes, shared pleasures, and everyday stories from people I loved the most.
For years, I avoided the dining room table except when I had visitors. Recently, I practice sitting in different places. First David’s, then Anthony’s, then Vic’s. Like Goldilocks, I want the chair that’s just right.
I remember to give thanks now—for my food, for Vic, and for the many meals we shared—but I still haven’t found my new place.
Have you lost someone you ate meals with for years? A death, a break-up, a child leaving home? How did that change your eating patterns? Was it a relief or was it traumatic? For other articles about food and my family, see Better than your Grandma’s Marinara and Cooking a Bowl of Italian Heaven. You might also enjoy my family’s favorite recipes.