I am a devotee of the CBS Sunday Morning program. I have watched the program religiously for more years than I care to recount. This Sunday morning the subject was food. I found out that macaroni and cheese is now considered haute cuisine, fetching ninety-five dollars a plate, at a restaurant in New York City. On a more profound note, another segment reported, that a family that sits down and has meals together is less likely to have children with chronic behavior problems.
As I watched the show, in my early morning haze, I began reminiscing about Sunday mornings with my family. If we did not attend church, we would sit around the kitchen table and watch Oral Roberts on a little black and white television, while having breakfast. When Roberts directed the faithful to touch the television screen, to receive blessings from Tulsa, Oklahoma, my father would reach over and place his hand on the screen and turn to us, with his arm extended. The five of us would touch hands, close our eyes and pray. My older brother and I would try to remain in the moment and not snicker, which we were prone to do whenever my father was having one of his “Ward Cleaver” moments.
During my pre-teen years, I took our home, our intact family, our two parent income, lavish weekend meals-prepared by my mother from scratch-and the time we spent together as a family, all for granted. It did not occur to me, until I was in college, that I had been part of something that many American children have never had the opportunity to experience. I thought that every family bought a new car every five or six years, and went on family vacations each summer because that’s what happened on television and in my neighborhood in Conant Gardens.
I know now, that my parents did a miraculous thing for me and my brothers by devoting their lives to the three of us. My parents provided a stable home for many years, and fed us a steady diet of family values that has sustained us throughout our lives. We had family with all the trimmings.
What a family unit does together can and will impact on the participants for the rest of their lives. When I worked in office settings, I would often hear many of the women complain that they were “too tired” or “too busy” to prepare meals for their families at night. A co-worker reported that his grandchild was so used to consuming a Happy Meal for dinner that the child would cry out “Mommy eat!”, as they pulled into the parking lot of McDonalds. Today, many children are fed at school in the morning. After school, children eat in the car on the way home or in front of the television/computer/Nintendo, and then go to bed. Family time has become a relic of the past.
When I was a child, we did everything together-watching television, going to church, the drive in theatre, grocery shopping-as a family. A trip to Elias Brothers Big Boy was a special event that required that we ‘dress up’ and be on our best behavior. More often than not, we ate together, as a family, at home.
I was immersed in a family with values. I took my intact family and all that went along with it for granted. In retrospect, never having to question my life’s circumstance was the gift that my parents provided me. A southern Methodist momma and a born in Detroit, east side and sanctified daddy devoted their lives to us in the hope that we might become good citizens.
As I write this piece, I understand why my brothers are compelled to “spoil” their children in the manner that they do. My brothers and I were “programmed”, at an early age, to behave in a way that motivated us to succeed in the pragmatic world. We were oblivious to the dysfunction that existed in the family. Love overrode all other concerns and motivated our parents to get up at the crack of dawn and work (in conditions that shortened their life spans), come home each night and spend quality time with us. The family was our universe and everything outside of the family was secondary.
In some ways, as an adult, I have come to feel out of step with a lot of the people I interact with. My life as a child was very special. When my younger brother and I talk to people about our childhood they often look at us in disbelief, as if what we are telling them about our lives is a fairytale. It is not. He and I decided, some time ago, that our lives were simply less dysfunctional than many of the people that we encounter. We have also come to understand that we were “blessed” for that is the only thing that might account for the differences between what we experienced and the lives of many others. The differences cannot be quantified.
A shared meal, a short prayer before imbibing and few moments together each day can make a difference in the course of our lives.