For as long as I remember Sunday afternoons were for family gathering at my aunt's house in Romania with my parents, my Mom's brother, his girlfriends and eventually his wife and then when my parents left with my uncle's wife and her family. The family always got together, lots of laughter and lots of food - even in Romania where there was a shortage often they stretched and bought from the black market so that these get togethers could occur.
When we moved to the US like many immigrants there was no extended family to have Sunday dinners with. My parents recreated them with friends, and families that they met who either came to our house, hosted or we went on picnics with. The food was plentiful, and never ending regardless of indoor or outdoor space, the kids got to be together and if in Astoria found a way to leave at some point to the movies or to hang out with friends (cigarette sneaking and promises to only see PG movies common occurrences). These days are ones I remember fondly for their feeling of friendships that were forged, times when my parents whose marriage was not always a good one actually enjoying themselves, music and dancing, off color jokes from the parents, loads of loud political discussions and dragging goodbyes at the door that could take an additional 30 minutes before the guests actually left.
When we moved to the suburbs I worried that I would not have any network or friendships. My thoughts of my own children playing, bonding, creating our extended family with my friends and their kids all seemed beyond our reach since none of our close friends lived anywhere near us. However, as I got to meet and befriend families in the area I forged some incredible friendships. One of the ones that is quite similar to my own experience of friend-family is ours with our friends Dori and Ricky. They are the Mertzes to our Ricardos (or vice a versa since our personalities are not matched with those characters but our friendship is similar to it - madcap laughs and even a road trip or two). We started our Sunday dinner tradition at some point in our friendship and it has been a favorite for both of our families. The dinners started before we had our second children and now all four children seem to look forward to them as much as the adults. Dori and Ricky are incredibly gracious at hosting often, kids playing in the basement (some memorable incidents such as our youngest boys drawing on each other with non-washable markers...took a week to clean my youngest son's feet or the many time we have had to explain that wearing pants is not optional to the innocent giggles that greet us from all four smiling culprits) or outside, wine flowing along with laughter. We exchange recipes, experiences, parenting advice and more than anything the feeling that our adopted family gathering is going to be something we will always treasure. Sunday dinners are a tradition for families all over the world and they should be treasured as they are foundations for our children to feel a sense of community, belonging and appreciation for family.