Dad was the one who made dinner. He would get home around six, wash his hands of electrical dust, and get to work on the chicken. Sometimes it was steak. The only time Mom cooked dinner was when she invited people over, and she would make something like fish, or shrimp, or elaborate basil-walnut-chicken pasta dishes. By default, when Dad cooked, everything was marinated in A1 sauce.
The four of us girls helped make salad, or mashed potatoes from a box, sometimes canned green beans, and while the chicken was cooking, we would set the counter with five plates: four plates on one side, one plate opposite. We used paper towels as napkins, and each of us would get a brightly colored kids cup to the upper right of our plate.
Usually Dad cut everything into small pieces before serving it. He’d hunch over the cutting board, spearing the meat with a fork. The chicken and steak were always charred from the grill, but he’d cut it into small enough slivers that we could dip it healthfully in A1 sauce and Ranch dressing to mask the burnt flavor.
While we ate, Dad stood across from us, making sure none of us pushed another off the bar stools, telling us funny stories about people at work.
“Fireball Dave got electrocuted today,” he’d say, chuckling as he re-enacted what it had looked like.
Back then, his belly didn’t jiggle when he laughed. His whole body would bounce happily, and his face would crinkle in a familiar pattern of silly amusement.
He kept a blonde mustache and a beard then. I always thought he looked like Robin Williams.