Sunday, September 21, 2014

                                                         THE SMILEYS

When Sarah Smiley's husband Dustin, a Navy pilot, was deployed overseas for a year, she was left with a small town life in Maine, three young boys to raise and an empty chair at the dinner table.  With no lack of trepidation, an aversion to cooking and a dislike for entertaining, she did what any other mother in the same set of circumstances would do:  she invited everyone from neighbors to politicians to policemen to dinner one night a week for a year.

Along the way Sarah Smiley, a syndicated newspaper columnist writing "I'm Just Saying," realized the life lessons she and her boys were learning and the incredible impact those meals had on their guests, she recorded their experiences in a book "Dinner with the Smileys." Unfortunately it took the death of an elderly neighbor in a nursing home who died the week before they planned to visit, to bring home the message about not postponing a good deed. That missed opportunity was turned around when the boys insisted they visit anyway and a man named Frank invited them to have dinner with him, since his beloved wife of 60 years had Alzheimer's and didn't know him any more.  Needless to say, the meal was a little soggy with tears.

R. J. Julia's Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Road, Madison commemorated Sarah's visit to town recently with, you guessed it, an old-fashioned potluck supper.  While Sarah served turkey lasagna (Garfield the cat would have approved) 90% of the time, it wasn't the menu that impressed the 250 strangers who crossed their doorstep.

Along the way, those strangers became friends and the town became a community.  The boys learned manners and how to socialize (we won't mention the time the minister who was dining that night found two of the boys wrestling on the kitchen floor and promptly sent them to their room).  One of their favorites (although the middle son Owen doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by naming a favorite) was a U.S. Marshal who came because people kept telling her to invite him.

The guests from the Governor of Maine John Baldacci to the local fireman to an Olympic Gold Medalist all left an impression,  There are a lot of lonely people who would like a dinner invitation (even if it's a Senator who gets a paper towel instead of a cloth napkin) and Sarah Smiley and sons Ford, 14, Owen, 12, and Lindell, 8, encourage you to invite one or three over.  You'll all be the richer and wiser for it.

The oven mitt is on the other hand these days as Dustin is now home with the boys, while Sarah is on her book tour.  Dustin is trying to figure out what to make for the company the boys are inviting to fill mom's empty seat at the dinner table.

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