Relationships

The Dog Story

The Funniest Dinner Story

When you sit down to dinner with family or friends, what do you usually talk about? Food writer Jenny Rosenstrach is all-knowing when it comes to dinnertime, and she has one idea that always works. Here, she reveals a funny piece of family lore she’s passing down to the next generation…


A few years ago, as our family was sitting down to meatballs, it occurred to me that my two daughters, then 8 and 10 years old, had never heard one of my family’s most legendary stories, the kind of yarn has been told so many times (mostly by their grandfather) that we have forgotten where the truth begins and ends.

“Girls?” I asked as I grated some fresh parm over their plates, “Have I ever told you The Dog Story?”

I noticed the focus adjust in their eyeballs like the lens on a camera. I had their undivided attention, which, I should’ve known by then, is what always what happens when you start a conversation with the words “Did I ever tell you the story…?”

I told them The Dog Story:

One Saturday morning when I was in ninth grade, my father woke me up and told me a client was going to be stopping by the house that day. A very important client, he added. “Be on your best behavior, please.”

It wasn’t often that my dad, who was in market research, had clients come over, so even though I was a teenager, I obliged. I picked up my room and made sure my CB down jacket was hung in the closet instead of slung over the banister in the foyer.

When the doorbell rang that evening, the very important client walked in… along with his dog. And not just any dog, mind you. A ginormous wild-eyed beast, which I immediately identified as a cross between a Lab and something way more intimidating, like a Doberman or a Rottweiler. This was bad news on many accounts. For starters, we had a cat named Boo who was terrified of dogs. Boo shot up the stairs faster than I had ever seen her run, and the dog took off after her.

“Well, we’re off to an energetic start!” my father said, clearly a little uncomfortable, before offering his client a soda and escorting him into the living room for the meeting. The client laughed and started in on small talk about the neighborhood.

My brother, sister and I, meanwhile, were freaking. I tried to mobilize them to rescue Boo, but my sister, who also had a paralyzing fear of dogs, didn’t want any part of it and escaped to a different part of the house. I could hear the cat tearing back and forth upstairs, and I have to admit, I was a little scared, too. But we didn’t want to interrupt the Very Important Client, so, in a controlled panic, my brother and I climbed the stairs.

Boo had flattened herself underneath a low dresser in my brother’s room, and was safe for now. I could not, however, say the same thing for my sister’s brand new black leather boots. One of them, chewed and shiny with slobber, was hanging out of the dog’s mouth as he sprinted from room to room. The good news was that he did not seem at all interested in my brother or me. He thrashed her boot around, as though he was breaking the neck of a squirrel, before taking off down the stairs again, drooling and panting as he went.

We followed, but slowed down when we got to the living room, where The Client was flipping through bound financial reports, as though it were completely normal for a vicious animal to be terrorizing the house.

“What is up with this guy?” my brother whispered.

“Well, it is a Saturday meeting,” I rationalized. “He probably thought it was fine to bring his dog?”

The charade – all of us on edge, pretending everything was fine — went on for another torturous half hour until we heard a crash in the kitchen. Everyone, including Dad and The Client, sprinted in the direction of the clamor. The dog had knocked down a plate of homemade cookies and was gulping up as many as he could. My father finally turned to his client, gingerly.

“Do you maybe have a leash you can put on your dog?” He asked.

The client looked at him in confusion.

“That’s not my dog,” he said.

***

When I tell the story, people always take a second before it sinks in that the dog was a stray who happened to wander in off the street at the exact same time that my father’s client showed up at our doorstep. My father delivers the best rendition of the story, but even so, I definitely won family dinner that night.

I’ve written about family dinner for six years now, and while our table will always be a place to recharge and reassure, I’ve found I also appreciate mealtimes for a different perk: It feels like the most natural place to tell stories. They don’t necessarily have to be legendary – though I do find that every family has at least one Dog Story.

If your kids are like mine, they love hearing about where they came from and who we are as a family. Particularly when it includes a glimpse of their parents as kids, or behaving in a way that is far from perfect. Beyond just having my daughters’ attention, beyond having something to talk about besides the meatballs, the tales help us build the family narrative, the never-ending, multilayered yarn they’ve been hearing their whole lives, and, hopefully help them figure out where they belong in it.

Next time you sit down to family dinner, try it. Ask “Did I ever tell you the story about…” and see where it takes you.


Food writer Jenny Rosenstrach is the founder of the blog Dinner: A Love Story. She wrote a book with the same name, which has a prized spot on our bookshelf. Her other two books are Dinner: The Playbook and How to Celebrate Everything, which comes out this month.

P.S. A romantic trip gone wrong, and how to get your kids to talk at dinner.

(Illustration by Kristen Solecki for Cup of Jo.)

  1. wait wait wait. this is eerily similar to a story that MY dad always told me growing up with the same punchline — “that’s not my dog.”

    i’m fascinated…

  2. Katrina says...

    This reminded me of a story about the summer I worked at a rural camp for adults with disabilities – they would come for a relaxing week of swimming, campfires, golf, hayrides, etc. In a resort-like setting. It would occasionally happen that some more independent campers would wander off for a little walk in the nearby forest, and once one particular lady took it into her head she needed a break from ‘camping’ . Because she was special needs, there was quite a panic to find her, and after an hour past, the staff were getting frantic. But no one could believe it when that sweet lady was brought back by a neighbour from a nearby house – she was as fresh as a daisy, because she had walked in, and helped herself to a relaxing bubble bath, which is where they found her! They knew exactly which camp she had come from :)

  3. sarah says...

    This was so great. Thank you for featuring such great writing. I’m inspired to tell a story at dinner tomorrow too.

  4. Sasha says...

    This story is a delight! And I absolutely love the book “dinner a love story”, thank you for reminding me.

  5. This is the best- I love Jenny’s writing! I want to be adopted by Jenny and her family… :)

  6. I love telling stories at dinner. Tonight I’m going to tell your story to my family, and they will undoubtedly find it hilarious!

  7. Michelle says...

    Love this!
    I will never forget the time we were all sitting at the dinner table and my grandpa interrupted someone mid-conversation and said, “Did I ever tell you the story about a girl I liked when I was young?” He went into this dramatic story about how they worked together in a factory and just by a look they gave each other one day, they both left and got into his car and drove away, pulled onto the side of a dirt road and made love. When they pulled away there was a car following them trying to run him off of the road and it turned out to be the girls boyfriend! We all just sat there. Silent. Stunned.
    He started to giggle and then said, “I was young once you know. You people seem to forget that.”
    He died two weeks later. 💔

    • break. my. heart.

  8. Sarah K says...

    I also was thinking “Emily of New Moon!” as I was reading this story. It makes it even funnier to know this has actually happened to real people, too! I wonder if L M Montgomery base the scene on a real life experience. :)

    Our family’s best story so far…. Early in our marriage, my husband and I were over at the home of some friends. He went out to the car for something and returned a little while later looking shocked. He had accidentally walked back into THE WRONG HOUSE. (He had not even been drinking). The houses were somewhat similar in appearance and it was dark outside…but still. It gets worse: the houses were laid out similarly (and he is not very observant about decor or home layouts) so he walked all the way through the hallway to the back of the house before he encountered the only people home: a mother and her young daughter, who were naturally horror-struck, the poor mother shoving her daughter behind her to protect her from this “intruder”. My husband stammered some apology and fled. We still half-laugh, half-cry about how pathetic the excuse of “sorry, I thought this was the house next door” must have sounded! That poor woman probably remembers it as the scariest moment of her life…

  9. That was so funny, and did NOT end how I expected it to.

    In my family there’s the Squirrel Story. My dad tells it best, but one night when we were little, my dad threw some logs into our wood stove and lit a fire. A moment later, something leapt out of the wood stove at my dad. At first, we were confused about how a log had achieved sentience, but then as it took off frantically across the room, we realized it was a squirrel with its tail on fire. It bolted around the house until we were able to chase it out the door with its tail still smoking (but thankfully, no longer aflame). My dad had to go get tested for rabies because it had scratched him (he was fine) and we tell ourselves the squirrel fully recovered, so all’s well that ends well!

  10. Maureen says...

    Very funny! My family has the “Pie Story”. When I tell it, people don’t laugh, they just stare at me in disbelief and smile awkwardly. My family thinks it is hilarious. I don’t know what that says about my family’s sense of humor…With my three year old, every night I make up a story. She loves this and it helps her be creative. Sometimes I tell her I need help and say “and then…” and she continues the story. Story telling is so much fun :D

  11. Kathryn says...

    I know I commented already, but I had to come back to say that I told my husband this story at dinnertime last night and he nearly had his diet coke come out his nose when I got to the end! Thanks again for the funny story.

  12. Jenny – I told this story at dinner (prompted with “do you guys want to hear a funny story?”) and at the part where the dog is running around w the boot in his mouth, my almost-6yr old son was belly laughing so hard I thought he was going to choke. (He didn’t.) Nothing better than laughter around the table, which I learned from my dad (sounds like you did too?) and this was a great reminder.

  13. liz says...

    LOVE this story!!!!

  14. Susan says...

    We had college friends over for dinner Saturday night and the 5 kids loved hearing our stories of how we all met. The older ones even got off their phones and listened! I agree that stories told around the dinner table makes for the best time for all.

  15. Awesome post. Great story and great reminder that we should tell our family stories out loud, and often.

  16. Libby says...

    THIS HAPPENED TO ME!!! I was walking into a bagel shop (the doors were wide open) and right as I was about to walk in, two huge dogs came barreling inside in front of me. The lady behind the counter looked pissed off as they ran right into the kitchen, only to hear the bakers start yelling. She told me I had to take “my dogs” and leave. I threw my hands up and said “they aren’t mine!!!” She looked so bewildered I had to tell her several times that I had no idea where they came from!

  17. Francoise says...

    Tonia, that’s the funniest story ever!!

    • Stephanie says...

      I was thinking of this the whole time! “Zat is neut mah deug”

  18. jill c. says...

    this was hysterical! loved this story!

  19. What a great story! My friend Deb has quite a few about her late dog, Lucky, who was the world’s greatest escape artist. One time he wound up in a neighbor’s attic by jumping across from the roof and breaking in through a cracked window. The poor woman thought she had a burglar…!

  20. Lauren E. says...

    I love this!!! I agree about sharing stories. When I was a kid, I loved hearing anything about my parents as children. And my grandmother used to tell me this great story about her taking off to New York City (from Utica) with her friends and when the guy she was with “got fresh” she just took the quarter she kept in her sock, called a cab, and went home. It was her way of telling me to always keep a quarter in my sock – you never know when you’re gonna need it. :)

    • Kim says...

      My grandmother told me a very similar story and warned me to always have a few dollars of my own whenever I went on a date. She called it “Mad Money”. I guess for when you get mad at your date and have to book it? Grandmothers are wise.

  21. This is so funny! I absolutely loved it! I can imagine how it cheers up a dinner table :)

    Lii

  22. shopgirl says...

    Ha, ha, ha, hilarious!

  23. Jenny says...

    Great story and great tips on family dinner.

    Love this blog!

  24. That has to be the best dog story ever. Incredible! I will share this one with my son.

  25. zoe persina says...

    amazing story! thanks for sharing!

  26. CT says...

    In our family, we have “The Cat Story” and it involves one child who doubles down on a lie involving practicing for piano lessons with another lie about feeding the cat. She becomes trapped when the mother informs her that cat has been dead for a week and she hadn’t told anyone about the vet visit, waiting to see who would notice first. It is a pretty legendary story and now if you think a family member may be fibbing, the appropriate reply is “but did you feed the cat?”

    • Sarah says...

      This made me laugh out loud. Thank you!

    • Lucy says...

      AMAZING.

    • Erin W says...

      OMG.

  27. Caitlin says...

    I love Jenny’s blog! She’s such an excellent writer. It’s so funny, this story is so much like one I read in one of the Anne of Green Gables books where a stray dog was tearing someone’s house up, and both parties thought it belonged to the other. (Or maybe it was Emily of New Moon? Rilla of Ingleside? I really wish I could remember the book – if anyone knows what I’m talking about, please let me know I’m not a crazy person!) Anyway, I always loved hearing stories about my parents as kids – getting into trouble or doing something crazy. I can’t wait to tell the same kinds of stories to my kids as they grow up :).

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes! It’s so funny, such a coincidence. But it really did happen to Jennys family. (She actually called her dad tonight to make sure she wasn’t crazy and it definitely happened. Her mom confirmed it too. The client is still living up in Westchester.)

    • Anne says...

      I totally know what you’re talking about! I think it’s one of the later books in the Emily of New Moon series. This is exactly what I was thinking about when I read this article!

    • It was Emily of New Moon! I had the exact same thought :)

    • This is insane! In the three decades that my family has been telling the dog story, no one has ever brought up the Lucy Maud Montgomery series. I can’t believe this happened to other people…albeit fictitious people, but still! Now we have a nice little post-script to add to the story. Thanks Caitlin (and Jill D and Laurie below)!

  28. Jill D says...

    A very similar tale (I really wanted to use tail) is recounted in Emily’s Quest the second book in the Emily series by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

    • Laurie says...

      Yes! That’s exactly what I thought of!

  29. Alice says...

    This is hilarious. Love Jenny!

  30. This is hilarious. My family has similar stories, where they grow every few times they are shared, and are always followed by aching belly laughs and smiles from the whole table. Our house has a blended family of 2 teenagers and 2 toddlers, so dinnertime is an important time for us all to get together. I’ll try to start a story tonight to get everyone interested, lol!

    xoxo http://www.touchofcurl.com

  31. What a great story! Growing up, my family ate dinner together at the dinner table every single night. It was a very important ritual that my brother and I never wanted to miss, even when we were teenagers (it helped that both my parents are excellent cooks). It was common that our friends–especially the ones whose parents didn’t cook–would just “happen” to show up at our house right before dinner and end up joining us.

    We have a Dog Story of our own, too…except it’s about OUR dog, Woody, who was kind of a legend in our neighborhood. He only had one eye, and lived for 16 years despite his many adventures, a couple of which almost brought about his early demise (he was shot by a deer hunter in the leg when he was five…) He would run away from home whenever he would catch a wild hair, and one time he ended up sneaking in through the front door of our neighbor’s house just as the neighbor was coming home from work late at night. He had been bartending at the local pub, and was drinking on the job, so he fell asleep fast and hard and woke up in the morning spooning our dog in the bed beside him!! The best part was he didn’t recognize him so he called a friend the next day and said, “Something really weird happened to me last night…I slept with a one-eyed dog.” The friend knew Woody and immediately said, “Oh, that’s the Simeone’s dog,” and we were called to come pick him up. :P

    • Amy says...

      That is hilarious, Tonia!!

      Oh, I need to hear some more stories! This is just the best!!

    • Lauren E. says...

      This is absolutely hysterical.

    • oh this story is so great. i thought the post was hilarious but THIS STORY really made me laugh out loud.

    • Kate says...

      Yes, please tell us more stories!! :)

  32. oh this is so good. At the risk of being the dorky, gushing first commenter, I love love love Jenny and her blog and all her books and her writing in general and now this story too.

    Great important detail: CB down jacket. ha

    Thank you for all of this!!

  33. Oh my! I love this! The story and the dinner idea to tell stories, both fabulous. Thanks for the chuckle and the recommendation :)