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What could you learn at a family dinner?

Yesterday evening was the monthly family dinner for my mom’s extended family. This is a tradition that was born of great sadness. The only time we ever saw Mom’s cousins was at funerals. We were standing at my great-aunt’s graveside when someone suggested we have a family reunion to see each other under more pleasant circumstances. This idea was bantered about for a bit, and then a monthly dinner was suggested. We all agreed on a day of the week, and decided to move the location every month. Hence, our tradition was born.

Sometimes we have a cookout. Other times we meet at a restaurant. It’s always pot luck or Dutch treat. We shake things up every once in a while with hayrides or tours of historic places. Yesterday, we held our dinner at Chicken Mary’s just outside of Pittsburg, Kansas. Nothing says comfort food like fried chicken and German potato salad to me.

I love listening to my older family members tell their stories. I think that most people could really benefit from sitting down at a dinner table with multiple generations and just visiting. I’ve gotten to know my distant cousins pretty well over the past few years, and I love them dearly.

Through our conversations I learn about my family history. I often have “aha moments” when I realize why we do things the way we do. My grandparents and their siblings were young adults during The Great Depression. My older cousins, aunts, and uncles were born in the 1940’s while the strain of that era was still fresh. My mom is younger, but was still brought up with that conservative mentality.

They were all taught to never waste anything. Always try to fix something that was broken first. If that doesn’t work, keep it around for spare parts. Always obtain food when it’s plentiful, in season, or on sale. Always preserve what nature provides. Never let fruit rot on the tree.

Those values were instilled in my mom who, in turn, instilled them in me. If I don’t have enough food in the house to last my family at least a year, I tend to panic. When I can see shelves in my freezer, it’s time to go shopping, foraging, hunting, or fishing. These values kept my family alive when times were tough. They will serve us well in the future if the need arises.

It was from our family dinners that I realized where my insatiable need to nest originates. I also have the urge to keep broken things for spare parts after trying to fix them myself. My husband doesn’t agree, so we have no broken “parts” machines squirreled away.

I am empowered by the knowledge of those who came before me. I encourage you to sit down to dinner with your extended family and visit with them. Listen to their stories, and share your own. You might even learn that your great-grandparents lived in a sod shanty or that your grandpa’s favorite job was as an apple picker.

family dinner teaches family history

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