In our house the focal point of every new topic, every new discussion, and ultimately every new clever story was at the dinner table. The evening meal was when every member of the family was present at the same time. All of the stories that you’ve read so far came from that one place. Every story had a point that was used to teach us (the children) something about ourselves or about life. Sometimes they were funny, sometimes not, but you never walked away from the dinner table without something more than a full belly. But verbal stories weren’t the only trick Dad had to offer. There were other things as well.
At one dinner Dad turned to me and asked me if I could close one eyelid without moving the other one, you know like a wink but without the squint. “What?” Here, let me show you and he proceeded to close his left eyelid without any movement at all on the rest of his face. “Again, what?” So I tried it. Hey, this was hard to do! Both Barbara and Janis tried it and failed as well. But my mother didn’t think such parlor tricks were very lady like. I kept trying this little trick and finally I got it to work. Then he asked if I could do it with the other eye. “Ugh, no!” After a time, I could close either eyelid without any other movement on my face. I was so proud.
Some time went by and then at another dinner Dad turned to me and asked if I could “wiggle my nose.” “What?” Here, let me show you and he proceeded to flair out his nostrils as though he was breathing hard and trying to gasp for air. He could do it rapidly or slowly or any way he chose. “Oh no, not again.” Again, my mother was not amused that my sisters would actually try this. But I did, over and over until I could do this little trick at will. I was so proud. When I was ready to demonstrate my new prowess (at the dinner table of course) Dad congratulated me and asked if I could wiggle my nose while I had my right eyelid closed. “Ugh.”
Again, some time went by before another dinner when Dad turned to me and asked if I could “wiggle my ears.” “What?” Here, let me (oh please don’t) show you and he proceeded to move his ears front to back as fast as he wanted. My mother immediately shot a dirty look at my sisters (don’t even think about it!). And again with way more effort than this particular parlor trick deserved, I could finally do it. When I was ready for the demonstration I first closed my right eyelid and then wiggled my ears. He just smiled. I was beyond proud at this point.
Just when we all thought we had run out of facial appendages that needed to be moved Dad turned to me and asked if I could (oh my, and I started to giggle) move my fingers like this, and he demonstrated. First he moved both hands end over end in a forward circle motion, like you would demonstrate a tire rolling down the street. Then he moved both hands end over end in a backward circle motion, like you would demonstrate a tire rolling toward you. I could do both of those. (My mother was still glaring at my sisters) Then he moved his right hand in a forward circle and his left hand in a backward circle. “Whoa, what?” Well, this really wasn’t within my DNA (see The Piano) to do but he kept after me about it and finally he showed me a little trick so that I could do it.
OK, so now I’m not even 10 years old and I can wiggle my nose and wiggle my ears all with one eyelid closed and moved my hands in opposite directions all at the same time. I can remember trying to teach both of you these little tricks. Neither one of you had much interest in them and to me that was fine. But here is the difference between my Dad and I and both of you. To my father every discussion was a contest. It was an opportunity to discover who was the dominant party, who had the most weaknesses, who was the leader and who was the follower. He had unlimited stamina and patience and there was no defeat in him.
Like my father, I used the dinner table as a forum for discussion and learning. I wanted you both to be able to think about what you were learning in school and to question everything. At our dinner table, there was no contest. There were offers of interesting things to learn and different ways of looking at things; some you accepted, some you didn’t. My objective was not a show of power or superiority, just the offer of something new and perhaps of some value.
© J T Weaver