According to my friend Lillie, “hoink” is the sound a wooden spoon makes when applied, playfully, to the head of a child who is “being ridiculous” at the dinner table. Lillie demonstrated as we gathered too many industrial dormitory chairs around a small table. Lillie’s father is the original “hoink”-er and a mustached Oregon cowboy with a wealth of no-nonsense wisdom. At least that’s how we picture him from Lillie’s stories.
Plus, Lillie is the sort of person who would be raised in self-reliance formed by long walks between neighbors. She has the legacy of kindness that can care for a person or place without crushing it. Have you ever noticed the difference between kindness that is with and kindness that is unto or upon?
With is an incredible state of being.
When my mom calls on Thursday nights, I say, “I’m with friends at Lillie’s. Can I call you back?” I’m pacing the hall, anxious to get back before I miss a laugh.
Thursday Dinner started casually. Lillie texted, asking us to bring something—a loaf of bread, a salad, a pan of brownies.
“Our house is your house,” Lillie said, “We don’t have a lot, but what we have is yours.” She’s said it enough, it’s cross-stitched and hanging on her wall now.
Every Thursday, we take turns cooking—chickpea curry is a favorite, as are chili, spaghetti, and lots of soup. Stewed tomatoes form a base to many easy recipes. And if the warm, slightly acidic taste of tomatoes isn’t the taste of home—of ordinary weeknights, between homework and music lessons—I don’t know what is. We have familiar household recipes, now, as we did in our parents’ houses.
Eventually, Lillie made rules:
- No saying you’re “fine” when you are not.
- No fighting in the kitchen.
Just like home.
We sit for hours after dinner, our heads in each other’s laps, our feet propped on the coffee table, an easy mix of guys and gals. We advise on matters of the heart. I used to vent the frustrations of a prolonged job search. We help with homework.
Once, Hannah recorded our conversation for an assignment. “Hoink” was captured. Hearing our eccentricity recorded tickled us. We laughed until we couldn’t breathe. We bring it up often. Somehow, there is always someone new at Thursday Dinner who needs to be let in on the joke.
One night in December when there was nothing left of the sun but a blush on the horizon, like light under a door, just a few of us sat around Lillie’s kitchen table. We’d brewed a pot of tea. It could have been seven or midnight. The curtains were drawn, the light above the table was the only one we’d turned on.
It felt clandestine, like a chrysalis under a lilac leaf, or a flashlight under a tent of blankets, like how lighting candles at a holiday table or during power outages feel when you are little.
“We’ve done it!” you think. You’ve escaped into one of the world’s little pockets of magic and bolted the door behind you.
We’ve met faithfully for Thursday Dinner for more than a year now.
Even these days, Thursday Dinner hardly skipped a beat. We spent five hours on a video call two weeks ago, tilting screens to show off familiar first apartments or the ancestral homes we’ve returned to. Sometimes we just sat in silence—busy, or cooking, or distracted by smaller screens—but glad to simply be with each other.
Behind Lillie, I see the corner of a frame that I know holds the cross-stitch.
My friends are bright people, high achievers. They program supercomputers, write poetry, work multiple jobs, lead worship. We’ll accomplish many, many things. But chief among them could very well be that Lillie, an engineer, spiritual mentor, and onomatopoeia master, without seeming to put any particular effort into it, made something with a magnetic force stronger than a global pandemic.
And I hope we, the Thursday Dinner people, are a legacy of chili eaten daringly over carpet because there weren’t enough chairs and we’d rather sit on the floor together then split to cluster around furniture.
When we leave Lillie’s house, we go in ones and twos—bracing a hand on the doorframe or the wall, wiggling our feet in the tumbled pile of shoes to hook and reel in our heels, sneakers, boots, or flip-flops. Some of us have jobs. Some of us are students. Some of us are in-between. Most of us are in-between, in that odd foyer to adulthood that goes from your childhood family room to a similar room that will become your family room, with spouses, or children, or cats.
The foyer is dimly lit and coldly tiled. Sometimes it seems too long. But I find myself standing in the foyer, growing warm in my coat, easing into the drawn-out rhythm of a midwestern goodbye, reluctantly leaving warmth behind.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.