If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?
When my mom moved the kids back to her hometown after her divorce, we lived next door to her parents and her siblings, in a private street that bore their name. Though I have memories of doing just about everything in that house, I don’t have memories of eating dinners there until I was about fourteen.
Instead, we ate dinners and during the weekends, lunch, too, at my grandparents’ house. We’d sit at a long table that extended to one that was a bit lower to accommodate all their grandchildren – which included myself. There was a hierarchy of sorts, with my grandfather sitting at the head of the table and my grandmother, I think, sitting to his right. The youngest aunt sat to his left, and so on. Since I was only a child, I sat with all my brothers and cousins at the other end of the table. And even we had our own hierarchy as well, although I don’t remember our seating arrangements at all. It may have been first come, first served.
The hierarchy extended to the food and condiments. The best cuts always ended up with the grown-ups, while the tiny cuts and bony pieces to the kids, where we learned to joke that all the nutrition could be found in the bones. Such is the diminishing of returns, so to speak, of a dish, once full at the head of the table, to the end of it. We had our own serving dishes, too, though, so we were definitely not starving.
The hierarchy extended to the ketchup. Del Monte tomato ketchup for the grown ups and for us, it was local banana ketchup – unless you were grandmother’s favorite, then you got Del Monte. She would even transfer the banana ketchup into a Del Monte bottle thinking we couldn’t tell the difference. We could, of course and complained every time because we only wanted the “American-made” one.
Grandfather hated it whenever she did that to us, too. It was cheap shot, he would say (in Spanish, thinking we couldn’t understand) but it didn’t stop my grandmother. In this case, she’d claim it was an economical decision. Local may not have been better-tasting, but it was cheaper.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, if my grandfather ever did join my family for dinner these days, he’d be surprised to see that we don’t eat at a table. He’d be shocked over the absence of servants as well – not even one. He’d be appalled at how messy my house is because it’s so small with no special room to call a library and office like he did, though he’d appreciate the books that are everywhere, especially the classics – Shakespeare, Austen, Proust, Rizal, poetry.
But I think he’d be happy to see something else.
You see, there are two kinds of ketchup in my refrigerator, and I prefer only one of them. It tastes so much better, it doesn’t cost any less for it has to be imported, but it does the one thing the “American-made” one can never do.
It takes me back to where I’m from.