The week before Thanksgiving 2011, Dustin Smiley left for a yearlong military deployment. Soon after, his son, Ford, 11, invited Sen. Susan Collins to fill his dad’s chair at dinner. On January 3, 2012, Sen. Collins came to dinner . . . and brought brownies. So began Dinner with the Smileys, nationally syndicated columnist Sarah Smiley’s 52-week commitment to fill her husband’s place at the family dinner table with interesting people (from school teachers 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 53rd dinner. Why dinner? Because dinnertime often is the loneliest time for people living alone. If houses and apartments were like dollhouses with one side totally exposed, Sarah says, wefd 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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