30 MINUTES AFTER DINNER
"Memories of a very fond and
much younger time," by Jefferson G. Tracy
This story won favorite
overall in response to the 2006 Tracy Island Writers
Forum's Silly Fic Title challenge as voted by TIWF members.
When I was
young boy and growing up on the wheat farm in Kansas, I began
to notice, as children do, that my Mother and Father shared a
special kind of nightly ritual. It was something Dad always
believed was important to Mother and something he made sure he
never missed. It was something, he told me just before he
died, that also gave meaning to his life and made everything
he did worthwhile.
no matter how long the day was on that farm, or hard, my
parents always made an effort to sit side by side on our old
wooden porch swing and talk to each other.
minutes after dinner.
always Dad who instigated that conversation. He'd smile at
Mother and slowly offer her his often work-weary hand. "Nice
night out, Josephine," he would say as he gently drew her to
her feet. Mother would look up and smile at Dad too. "Indeed
it is, Grant" she would inevitably reply. Then, without any
more discussion, she allowed him to open the screen door for
her before the two of them disappeared, hand in hand, into the
every night was a nice night out in Dad's opinion.
thirty minutes after dinner.
the two of them would stay out there and talk for hours;
especially if the season was rough and Mother was worried. I
would watch from my bedroom window as Dad sat next to her on
the old wooden swing and listened attentively. Sometimes what
she said made him nod his head. Other times what she said made
him lower it. No matter what it was she said, Dad never failed
to wrap his arms around Mother, kiss the top of her head, and
offer his quiet reassurance. Things would be all right, he
would murmur over and over again. She ought to know by now she
could trust him to provide.
times they would sit out on the porch together and say very
little. On those nights, the silence between them was made
obvious by the groaning and creaking of the old porch swing.
Dad would look into Mother's eyes. Mother would gaze into
Dad's. When the time came, so did their words; Dad's voice
muffled and barely a whisper; Mother's voice stifled and
hardly a whisper too. Then there would be silence again as he
kissed her under the beautiful starlit sky. I guess those few
whispered words of love said more to both of them than the
As I grew,
I became rather intrigued not only with the ritual but also at
the thirty minute interval between the dinner table and the
porch. Why did it always have to be thirty minutes I queried?
Why couldn't it be twenty or even twenty-five?
me, once I started asking Dad questions about his private time
with Mother I soon learned the hard way that it takes a lot
more than thirty minutes to clean up a kitchen when you don't
have any help, not to mention fumble about in the darkness
without a flashlight trying to lock down a barn. After a week
of experimentation I'd literally "learnt my lesson" and I was
actually rather relieved when Dad asked if the answer to my
questions had become apparent to me yet.
year old could never have been more certain when faced with
the threat of yet another night attending to the chores.
things a married couple needed to do in the first thirty
minutes after Dinner, I told him without hesitation, and I
would never forget that he was the one who said it.
boy, my Father sure had a knack of making a point back then
when he had to.
rolled on and it wasn't long before I became a man in my own
right. Leaving the wheat fields of Kansas behind me, I began
the pursuit of excellence in my chosen career. The Air Force
left me little time to think about my old life on the farm but
every opportunity I got I came back to visit my parents. When
I did, it was comforting to see nothing much had changed.
farmhouse was the same.
fields were the same.
And so was
Mother and Dad's ritual.
have been noticeably older now but Dad still smiled at Mother
and offered her his hand. Mother still looked up at him and
smiled as he gently drew her to her feet. She still allowed
Dad to open the screen door for her. They still disappeared
together into the darkness.
watching the two of them, hand in hand on the old wooden porch
swing, it was nice to know Dad was still having "a nice night
minutes after dinner.
seem to bother him that I knew he kissed her when he took her
out onto the porch. To be quite frank with you, Dad didn't
care less what anyone thought when it came down to how he felt
you'll understand why I do what I do son." he said, his eyes
not leaving mine. "And trust me when I say it couldn't be more
it didn't hit me that anything like that was important until a
few years later when I fell in love with Lucy and became a
married man myself.
it didn't hit me at all.
in love, I continued to have a good old fashioned laugh at
Dad's insistence that married couples had things they needed
to do in the first thirty minutes after dinner. Lucy and I
blew that theory out of the water in the very first month of
our marriage. We weren't about to wait thirty minutes for the
opportunity to show each other how we felt. In our opinion
cleaning up the kitchen could wait until the morning and we
both knew for a fact there weren't any barns needing to be
locked down in the vicinity of our Houston apartment.
But as I
held Lucy in my arms, our bodies together as one in the
darkness, I suddenly realised my whispered voice sounded
exactly like my Father's. Lucy's was sounding surprisingly
like Mother's too.
only begin to imagine how I felt when I saw what time it was
on the clock to the left of our bedside.
Lucy frowned as I collapsed my body on top of hers and began
to laugh and laugh.
wouldn't believe me if I told you, Princess." I muffled into
her beautiful chestnut hair. "And you really don't want to
seconds earlier, the earth had moved for both of us.
thirty minutes after dinner.
long after that night that I had a final conversation with my
Father on the importance of his little ritual.
every word of it as if it were only yesterday.
managed to score myself a couple of well-deserved days off and
decided to make the drive to Kansas to visit Mother and Dad.
Lucy had discovered she was pregnant and I wanted to be there
in person when we broke the happy news.
expected Mother couldn't have been more thrilled. She made
such a fuss of both of us she completely forgot to cook Dad's
dinner and for the first time ever in my memory "Dad's nice
night out" looked in serious danger of being cancelled.
at Dad as he smiled and shook his head at Mother racing around
the kitchen. Her selfless energy and love for her family never
ceased to amaze him.
Irrespective, it was clear he still intended to instigate an
conversation of some sort and it soon became apparent the
conversation was about to be with me.
himself out of his favourite armchair, he looked over to where
I sat and motioned me to follow him through the old screen
getting dark out." he said. "I'd sure appreciate some help
locking the barn down for the night son."
I threw a
smile at Lucy and immediately rose to my feet.
problem, Dad." I shrugged not even realising the significance.
frame followed his as we stepped outside into the darkness.
hard not to notice the old porch swing as we descended down
the stairs of the farmhouse. Dad had sat with me on that swing
for over three hours when I informed him I was intending to
marry Lucy. The memory was still fresh, too fresh. We'd only
been married a couple of months. I shoved my hands in my
pockets and prepared myself for the inevitable. I bet Dad
couldn't believe there was a baby on the way so soon and he
was about to deliver a set of guidelines on the importance of
being a parent.
night out, son." was all he said as we walked together towards
is, Dad. Very nice." I replied, waiting for the talk.
silence that followed made me pretty nervous and I was even
more nervous when the barn loomed up in front of us and he
stopped and began to eye me carefully. "Uh oh," I thought to
myself. "Here he goes."
somehow surprised me. Once he started, it was obvious nothing
was further from his mind than giving me advice on my upcoming
began jovially, "... do you still think it takes less than
thirty minutes to lock this thing down, Jeff?" .
never more grateful for the darkness than I was at that
particular moment. The last thing Dad needed to see was me
blushing at the thought of my past foolishness.
Dad, you know I'm not fifteen anymore." I protested.
not." he acknowledged. "I was just wondering if something or
should I say someone might have changed
your thinking over the past few months."
I shook my
head and laughed.
made it more than clear eleven years ago there are things a
man needs to do for the first thirty minutes after dinner. I
don't think I'll ever need to be reminded about that again."
smiled. "I'm glad to hear you admit to that to me, Jeff."
too. "I have to, Dad. I'm a married man these days myself you
Dad put his arm around my shoulders and suggested we return to
the farmhouse. Ignoring my confusion at why we hadn't made an
effort to lock down the barn for the night, he went on to
agree that yes, I was a married man these days, and before
many more months had elapsed I was also going to be a Father.
With that in mind I needed to listen very carefully to what
else he had to say.
investment I could make in my children was to raise them in an
atmosphere of love, and if I wanted to do that, it was up to
me to make a concerted effort to keep the spark alive with my
wife. It didn't have to be thirty minutes after dinner. Hell I
could do it in the middle of the night if I wanted to. Just as
long as I made sure I did it. He himself just happened to pick
thirty minutes after dinner because he hated cleaning up the
kitchen almost as much as I did.
exclaimed almost in a state of shock. "I can't believe you
take thirty minutes to lock down the barn every night just so
you get out of helping Mother with the dishes!"
laughed. There were a lot of things about him I didn't know,
he grinned, and he wasn't about to admit to any more of them
what, Dad? "I said to my Father, shaking my head at him in
amusement. "You really are something special you know."
neared the farmhouse Dad paused one last time and his
weathered face grew serious. His eyes met mine under a starlit
Kansas sky. No; he wasn't all that special. He was only a
Farmer. He'd only ever be a Farmer. But what he did have in
his life was something a heck of a lot of important men in
this world didn't have and never would have because they
didn't think it was important enough.
of a good woman." he said. "And while there's breath in my
body Jeff, I intend to keep it that way."
no idea how those words affected me and how hard it was to
emulate my Father in the months and years which followed.
And once I
did, it wasn't only Mother and Dad who had a "nice night out."
minutes after dinner.
three years to the day of that wonderful conversation, my
Father suddenly died.
without warning and without saying goodbye to the woman he had
loved for over thirty years.
said the night before he left her, he made a real effort to
make their "nice night out" something very special. Somehow he
must have known it was going to be his time, she said, because
for the first time in his life Dad stayed back after dinner to
help her with the dishes.
just want to be with you." Mother said he told her. "Not just
thirty minutes after dinner Josephine... but for always."