“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave,
and grow old wanting to get back to…”
Some of my favorite sounds in the world is associated with a dinner table. Forks twirl bits of pasta against the plate in a repetitive motion, strands hanging tantalizingly off the edge; the metal sides scrape the remnants of mashed potatoes or scoop up errant grains of rice, and the tongs ting against the ceramic or fine china as they try to pierce the smallest peas or corn kernels.
Ice cubes mutely clink in glasses of lemonade, and cold milk splashes into the kids’ cups for a refill. Dishes are passed among eager hands before being set on placemats — a dull thud announcing their proper resting spot. Serving spoons knock against the edges of bowls to shake loose the bits that have stubbornly clung there; glass lids settle back into the grooves of the baking dish to keep in the heat.
Then, the words.
“How was work?”
“Did you pass your test?”
“Why is there a hole in the middle of my basement wall?”
Dinner is that clichéd symphony, wherein all the instruments come together to form this mess of delight. It’s parents trying to hold a conversation over the enthusiastic voices of their children; it’s audible reenactments of school days or afternoon play or “Andrew said something or other and it was soooo funny.” It’s brothers picking on their little sister and that little sister shouting at the top of her lungs for them to knock it off already. It’s being reprimanded for feeding the dogs under the table.
On rarer days, the symphony grows quieter, the notes changing to something more melancholy, more subdued. It’s explaining away a difficult day at work; it’s relaying a cruel comment spoken by a long-ago friend. It’s encouraging your grandmother to take at least one bite of food — just one bite, just one, just for you.
It’s the silence as you pause, forks suspended in the air, as you watch, as you wait.
As you pray.
My childhood was filled with these five o’clock dinners. It was a callback to my dad’s childhood, he told us once, when the factory whistle would blow, announcing to the neighborhood that it was time to go home. The kids would grab their bat and gloves and promise to pick up the game tomorrow where they had left off.
Five o’clock for us meant dropping the basketball or Barbie dolls and pedaling furiously on our bikes to make sure we were home in time to help set the table, promising our friends that we would be back as soon as dinner was over.
We could always rely on dinnertime.
We could always rely on everyone being there together.
As we grew older, that symphony began to change. There would be one less plate at the table, one less voice — an emptiness that we felt every evening, a feeling that seemed to only grow and become markedly more apparent during the holidays. Soon, after-school activities, work schedules, and eventually the inevitability of a college student who came home once every few weeks changed that setting even more; it all seemed quieter. Dinner was prepared later, the table set for only two or three, with dishes being made up and saran-wrapped and placed in the fridge for whoever wanted it whenever they came home from wherever they were.
I’ve been thinking about the life I’m about to lead and the life I’m about to leave and how worlds apart the two seem to be. For so many years, those utensils have conducted their familiar music, the chorus of voices joining in to create a full concert of love, of togetherness, and of family. Soon, that will fade away to my very own solo as I head out on my own — permanently, this time.
On my own, yet still very much together.
Because while I’ll have another place to call home, while I’ll have my own dinner to cook and table to set, this will always be my home. And it will always be my family.
And though dinner times may change and place settings will be added and taken away, while new voices will join that chorus and old ones will fade, I know that I will always have a home here.
Because this is where my family is, and with my family is where my heart belongs.
And home is where the heart is.