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Friday Night Dinner

Friday

What are you doing Friday night? Going on a date? To a baseball game? To a movie or the theater?

I’m going to dinner with my family.

Yup, I really know how to live it up! But honestly, there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.

The History*

The tradition was founded circa 1964. Every Friday night, the whole family piled into the sedan and feasted at a Mexican restaurant. Friends and extended family sometimes joined the fun, and after dinner the festivities continued with board games and card games back at home.

Fast forward a few decades, add significant others and five grandkids (including me), and the pattern continues. It’s now a different Mexican restaurant, but still the same one every week. The staff knows us so well that our drinks are delivered as soon as we arrive and we don’t even have to specify our meal order beyond “the usual.”

Ketchup waits on our table to dilute salsa for little mouths that are still in spiciness toleration training, and the scheming minds behind these little mouths know that if they do eat something spicy, a sugar packet emptied directly onto the tongue will quickly quench the burn.

We all learn geometry as our grandfather, an architect, cuts the massive cheese crisp into precisely equal slices, regardless of whether he divides it by 6 or by 13.

What Were They Thinking?

Five kids in a public restaurant? How did we find one that tolerated us week after week? I don’t know, but the experience did teach us how to behave…and still have a little fun.**

We learned to sit without our elbows on the table and with our napkins in our laps, and though our family was eventually assigned our own permanent table in a back room, we were never actually asked to leave.

We kids learned to work together toward our goals. We lobbied for ice cream for dessert and wrangled pennies for the gumball machine, which would deliver two gumballs if we turned the handle all the way in one fell swoop, but only one gumball if we took two tries to twist it. It was in the little kids’ best interest to be nice to the bigger kids so they’d help with this impressive feat.

And That’s Not All

When dinner was over, the party continued at Grandpa’s with Rummikub and an endless supply of Brach’s candy.

We learned colors, numbers, and strategy in exchange for bragging rights. We learned to take turns and we learned to master poker faces. We learned to be good winners and losers.

We learned to get over our tiffs and not hold grudges. We saw kids and grownups alike overcome differences by forced proximity.

Our family supported each other through marriages, divorces, layoffs, and medical scares.

The only attendees at risk were new significant others who were given a trial by fire. The question was not whether we liked them–we liked everyone–but whether they could handle all of us!

Interlude

As we grew up, got jobs, started dating, and moved away to college, Friday Night Dinner attendance decreased in the younger generation, but it was comforting to know that a core group persisted and we were always welcome.

Sadly, Grandpa died while I was in college and many of us moved out of town. No one picked up the torch in his place, and the tradition faded away.

During this time, though, I realized how valuable an investment those weekly dinners had been. I had thought it was just good food and tons of fun, but they really centered our family. Without spending this quality time together, I might not keep in touch with my cousins now. Seeing them only at major holidays would have kept us mere acquaintances–little more than strangers. Instead, I am grateful and confident in the knowledge that our ties are strong and we have each other’s backs.

Of course we’re not perfect. We’re awkward and could often use a thicker filter between our brains and our mouths, but we’re family and we’re all on the same team.

Fast Forward

Now that a decade has passed and there’s a new generation with even more kids, our Friday Night Dinners have resumed. Instead of going to a restaurant, we now eat at a family member’s house where there’s a swing set and plenty of room for the kids to roam.*** We still play Rummikub. The kids still scheme to get extra dessert. And Friday is still my favorite day.

 

*As told by my mother, who is known to have a somewhat selective memory, but it was before my time so we’ll go with it.

**It’s possible that an uncle taught us to use straws to shoot frilly toothpicks into foam ceiling tiles and to squish straw wrappers and drip water on them to make the worms grow… much to the chagrin of our parents.

***Are we less brave than the previous generation or are we smarter?

What are your favorite family traditions and games? Let me know in the comments below.

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Comments 15

  1. We’ll be going out for a family dinner tonight, along with a couple other families at a lakeside restaurant.

    Rummikub is a tradition / borderline obsession in my wife’s family. Soon, we’ll be able to introduce the game to our boys.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

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  2. I love this, Julie! Thanks for sharing your family tradition.

    It reminds me of our Sunday dinners (which were actually lunch, but called dinner!?) at my grandparent house growing up. Always roast beef, mashed potatoes and, you guessed it, Rummikub!!! (Love that game – still have it!)

    We don’t have Friday night plans, but do get together with family at least once each weekend for food and great conversation. Have a great night!

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      Ah yes, the lunch/dinner/supper connundrum. Lunch and supper are clear, but when the heck is dinner! Ha! Thanks for sharing and bringing back memories of my grandma too.

      I hope you and your family are having a great weekend!

  3. What a lovely post! Great family tradition. We had a similar tradition of sorts, but it was on Sunday night, and it was at grandma’s. But then grandma got ill and passed away and the tradition faded. Mrs. Groovy and I are hoping to rekindle the tradition once we join the rest of family up in Wake Forest next year. Thanks for sharing what made–and makes–your life special. And thanks for mentioning Rummikub. I never heard of it before.

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      Thanks, Mr. Groovy! It’s true that the grandparents are often the glue that holds family together– good for you for stepping up. It’s the simple traditions that create the warm, comforting memories and relationships far more than the big extravaganzas.

      As far as games go, Rummikub is awesome because there are no batteries or buzzers, and if more than four people want to play it’s easy to play in teams and help the kids learn to count and strategize.

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  4. We had a family tradition of having dinner at Grandma’s every Sunday. It’s been much harder for me to have traditions (at least weekly or monthly) with my own kids because all of my family moved out of state. And as they get older, it gets incredibly hard with work schedules and sports. But we do try to have at least one dinner and one breakfast together on weekends and we usually do it at home. I love that your family traditions continue and have even grown! It is something special for all of you and it certainly seems like you cherish it! Enjoy!

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      Vicki, it is true that teenager attendance drops precipitously, though they do come back as adults 🙂 Two meals together as a family on a busy weekend is very admirable, and breakfast together is a great idea!

  5. I come from a huge family and this post makes me nostalgic for the days when I lived closer to them. My wife and I, along with our 4 kids now live just over a thousand miles from our nearest relative.

    It’s been over 5 years since we moved away. Definitely past time for us to start some new traditions for our immediate family.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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  6. Great family tradition! I would love it if my family had a tradition to keep us closer, I don’t think my family is close at all (I’m very close with my mom at the very least!) and I want to change that. I think board game nights are a great idea to have fun and bond with family.

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      It’s so fun to watch the kids learn to play… then they can play and the adults only have to watch and chat. Win-win! Just choose a game without noises or batteries 🙂

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