The week before Thanksgiving 2011, Dustin Smiley left for a
yearlong military deployment. Soon after, his son Ford, eleven, invited Senator
Susan Collins to fill his dad’s chair at dinner. On January 3, 2012, Senator
Collins came to dinner and brought brownies.
So began Dinner
with the Smileys, nationally syndicated columnist Sarah Smiley’s fifty-two week
commitment to fill her husband’s place at the family dinner table with
interesting people, from schoolteachers to Olympians, professional athletes to
famous authors, comedians to politicians, and unique role models for her three
sons, even as she knows Dustin’s seat cannot truly be “filled” until he is home
again for the fifty-third dinner.
Why dinner? Because dinnertime is often the loneliest time
for people living alone. If houses and apartments were like dollhouses with one
side totally exposed, Sarah says, we’d see plenty of people eating alone to the
glow of a television.
That was the fate Sarah feared for herself and her children
during Dustin’s absence. So she opened her home, and she and the kids sent
invitations. And they found that a surprising number of people really are
available for dinner. You just have to ask.
In a time when popular culture leads us to believe that the
family dinner table is dead, Dinner
with the Smileys shows people that time spent with family,
friends, and neighbors is still very much part of the American lifestyle.
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