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At the Table

At the table, illustration by Amanda Chilton

Illustration by Amanda Chilton.

by Mary Ritter '23

My family has always made it a priority to eat dinner together. When I was in high school, even with schedules packed with homework, cross country practice and other extracurriculars, we still found a way to sit down together every night. At our wooden kitchen table, discussion topics ranged from the food we were eating and reports of our work and school days to politics and religion. In a family of introverts, my brother’s more extroverted personality and knowledge in a variety of topics kept conversation flowing. Then my brother went to college, and our family of four became a family of three. My parents’ attention focused on me at dinnertime. I found a louder voice at the table, sharing my growing interest in food, history and travel. 

Last fall, I started my first year at Dickinson, and meals with my friends and classmates replaced my family dinners. I ate breakfast with friends who were dedicated enough to make it to the dining hall before their 8:30 classes. Lunch became a brief mental respite from studying, even in a noisy cafeteria, and conversations from class carried over to the table. Dinner was the busiest time, when many of my friends came together to share a meal. Three meals a day, at the same times, usually with the same people. All of my routines changed, however, when my first year at Dickinson was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Now that I’m home, I feel like I’m in high school again. My parents and I are back to eating dinner together every night. My brother lives in D.C., and I wish he was home to contribute to the dinner table conversation. Some days the table is noticeably quiet because our minds are elsewhere or because we don’t have much to talk about from our days spent at home. 
In the dining hall, I built relationships with my peers. As casual acquaintances became friends, conversation turned from surface-level chatter to deeper discussions. My friends’ interests influenced mine as they shared their passion for literature, history, philosophy, science and the arts. My knowledge of the United States expanded as I compared my experience growing up in the Midwest to people who had grown up in New England and California. Now at dinner, I often find myself telling my parents about what I learned from my friends.  

I’m grateful to be in a safe and healthy home, and I’m glad that I have my parents to eat with. But I wish I was sharing meals with my friends back at Dickinson, where I have built a community separate from my family. Being abruptly forced from the routine I had begun to settle into at college has allowed me time to reflect on the importance of the small moments I shared every day with my friends. It’s hard being stuck in between two places: I’m mentally in Carlisle, working virtually on classwork and missing my friends, but I’m physically at home, feeling the same need for independence I felt at the end of my senior year of high school. Only now, I’ve had a glimpse of what that independence feels like, which makes it easier to miss.

Mary Ritter ’23 is an Italian studies major from Springfield, Ohio. On campus, she is involved with Italian Club and Outing Club and is a tour guide. She wrote this piece as part of a food-diary essay assignment in Professor of Creative Writing Adrienne Su’s Creative Nonfiction: Writing Food class.

Read more from the spring 2020 issue of Dickinson Magazine.

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Published May 13, 2020