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  • He said he just wanted quiet. Peace and quiet.

    But we didn't. We wanted laughter and conviviality, my three siblings, mom and I.

    And me, well, I also wanted matching glassware and cloth napkins, but I'll get to that later...

    A wide swath of humor runs through our maternal bloodline, and we all value it as a survival tool. The five of us (not Dad) all had our goofy jokes, our comedic faces, a sense of silliness that can just erupt - one of us looks sideways at another and boom! there it is - contagious, uncontrollable laughter.

    We were peas in a pod in this way and peas on our plate were always a summer favorite, an easy catalyst to catapult us toward convulsive laughter. It's just too easy to sort-of-not-really-accidentally shoot one off your plate, watch the flying green orb splash into a glass of milk, or land on your sister's plate...act like you had no idea of how it got there and try hard, really hard, not to laugh.

    To this day it's still sometimes like this when we are all together. It's a place for the possible expression of authentic joy, joy at the dinner table.

    Our father could never quite grasp these moments, savor or appreciate them. He would scowl "you kids!" and demand that we be quiet, finish eating, do the dishes, and take the garbage out, pronto. Get it all over with, so to speak.

    Decades later I've tried to make sense of this, considering that maybe what feels like joy to me - cooking, setting a table, making things pretty, laughing over long sittings at the dinner table - seems like work to him. Silly, useless expenditures of time and money in a life already overwhelming. And of that I am certain - we were (are?) overwhelming to him.

    Four children and a wife - we were just too many, too loud, too different to the tense and terse single-child home in which he grew up. Sitting there with his bitter, frowning mother and sometimes violent alcoholic father, I imagine his own childhood dinners were woeful affairs. Eat, keep your head down, rush through it all as quickly as possible, before who-knows-what breaks loose...

    Maybe that's why the glowing blue screen I so deeply resented growing up really did represent saftey to him. A space he didn't have as a child but then did as an adult - his corner of the house with the TV and the Lazy Boy. The place where no one would confront, challenge or question him. His house, his rules, finally! Peace and quiet indeed, to a grown-up broken boy.

    And maybe, if my speculation is correct, then the crushingly sad truth is that he's never, even once, missed our raucous childhood summer nights of flying peas.

    Maybe now I can stomach that. With neither laughter nor anguish, I can chew, swallow and be grateful for the understanding.
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