We were a rare family, indeed. Not because we lived in low-income housing. Not because my dad was making $9,000 a year as a Christian School Principal. No, the reason why we were a rare family was that we had a Family Night.
Family Nights consisted of typically three basic things. 1. Singing around the piano as my mom played cheesy little Christian jingles and we chimed in with gullible glee. 2. Eating spaghetti and meat sauce with a some of mom's famous Italian-dressing-baptized-salad. 3. Capped off with a circus where my dad was acting as the ring master.
These three things were augmented with other activities like reading books on the couch together, playing games outside on the lawn, walking down to "The Field" and seeing the lake, getting out board games like Shoots and Ladders and battling to the top, etc...these where the things that made Family nights so special each week.
Allow me to elaborate on each of the three main components...
First, the singing-around-the-piano deal. I don't know anyone else who did this, and this is quite funny because I distinctly remember feeling like everyone sat around on Friday night, gathered around their family piano singing songs about God...you know, how His banner over me was love, and a fountain flowing deep and wide and that he loved me because the Bible told me so...and the like. I remember feeling like everyone sang in harmony belting out unabashedly the fact that there was the "holy hush of angels wings" and the fact that "we're in the Lord's Army...yes sir!" But to my amazement, I have yet to meet another family in the whole of my wanderings as a gadabout on this planet that shared in this tradition, making it either uniquely wonderful or uniquely weird. I'm not sure which you may think it is, but I know what I thought it was...absolutely gladsome and idyllic.
My mom would pound the ivories and my dad would bellow out the tunes with a smile on his face coming from a smile on his heart. You see, my parents, little did I know, had just received Christ not too many years prior to my arrival. They were just doing what they thought any Christ-follower would do on a Friday night with their family...sing songs, pray prayers, eat eats and play games. So we did. Singing was a part of the culture of our home. It was as natural as breathing or eating or sleeping. Like the song says, "I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free...for his eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me." We sang because we were happy and free.
We would also eat some of the best home cooked meals you could ever imagine. Because we didn't have much money, there was alot of pasta, rice and uniquely blended leftovers of both. Most dishes served up at our dinner table were creative concoctions of either of these delicacies. And we loved it! Our dinner table was anything but reverent and reserved. We talked loud and laughed hard. We yelled at each other and told stories. The only way you could get all your story out was to become so good at story-telling that no one dared cut in on you. If you were telling a story and it lacked for a plot or for pizzazz, you were promptly bumped to the back seat and someone else assumed the driver's seat with their story. Sometimes Mom would prevent this "survival of the fittest" conversational style, but often it was the cultural grid that taught us to speak up, speak first, speak authoritatively and speak creatively...an art I try to use to this day. We jockeyed for position, scrumming like rugby players for the upper hand. It is a tradition that is carried on to this very day at family reunions.
Then we would participate in the Big Tent Circus held in our living room. My dad would hum a circus tune that went something like "do-do-dodo-do-do-dodo-dute dute dodo..." over and over and over again while he laid down on his back and flipped us up and over his body with his feet. He would bend his knees, grab our hands, place his big feet somewhere between our sternum and our abdomen, and proceed to flip us up over his head like trapeze artists. After landing, we would circle around and repeat the gymnast-like regimen all over again until my dad was so weary that his legs turned to jello and we fell directly into his hairy chest.
I remember the smell of my dad's scent to this day. One of cheap cologne (Old Spice or English Leather) and sweat, with a twinge of Body Odor after a long day spent in a suit. Not the kind of body odor that makes you want to vomit, the kind that lets you know who your parents are, like an animal that knows its parents by the scent they gives off. I loved the smell. I loved the hair on my dad's chest. I loved how my mom would cheer for us on the side lines moving back and forth from the kitchen to see how the dessert was coming along. I loved the colliding of bodies and voices and spirits that defined "Family Night". I was shaped by those early years...more than I even now know.
These are memories that I cling to.
These are memories that cling to me.