Sign & Dine

I had no interest in reading “Dinner with the Smileys,” but Sarah Smiley is coming to Milford to promote her book, so I read the first few pages.

And with her first sentence, “I don’t like to cook, and I hate small talk,” I started warming up.

Smiley is a Navy wife with three young sons, and her book tells the story of her unusual way of dealing with her husband’s one-year deployment in 2011 – by hosting weekly dinners with people she might find interesting and who might ease her boys’ loneliness for their father.

The first guest was Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who lives in Bangor, the Smileys’ current place of residence. Collins was the choice of 11-year-old Ford Smiley because his class was studying government.

Much to the family’s shock, Collins accepted the invitation, and Smiley frets over what to serve and whether to buy china. Ford does a complete about face, embarrassed because he thinks the senator is visiting them out of pity.

But they keep the dinner casual, Collins is a great guest, and by the time they finished their lasagna, and the homemade brownies the senator brings for dessert, I was hooked.

Smiley is smart and funny, human and humane and doesn’t hide her self-doubts and vulnerabilities.

Here’s how her son responds to one of Collins’ questions about missing his Dad, and how Smiley reacts:

“I think I could live without Mom.”

My cheeks turn cold. I stared down at my plate to blink away the sudden tightness I felt in my eyes. He could live without me?

“I mean no offense Mom,” Ford said. “But I think I could probably manage with just Dad. I mean, like, if she was gone and he was here, that would be easier.”

I wanted to cry. I wanted to tell Ford to take it back. I wanted to ask him why. I wanted to remind him of all the miles I carried him on my hip or sat with him when he couldn’t fall asleep. I wanted to yell at him and tell him he had hurt me. Instead, I looked up, smiled, and asked Owen to please pass the salad.

And so it goes week after week, Sarah and her sons sit down to meals, with the boys’ teachers, their 94-year-old neighbor, a Maine congressman, a representative from a food bank, a children’s book author, a baseball historian.

Few of the dinners go as planned; all of them were interesting and enriching experiences.

And next week, as part of a book tour, Smiley is visiting Milford for a combined book signing and, appropriately, a community dinner.

The Toadstool Bookshop, in partnership with Share Outreach, is holding the event Tuesday, Sept. 16, at the weekly spaghetti dinner hosted by the Masons, the Milford Lion’s Club, Share, and the Souhegan Transition Network at the Masonic Temple.

The temple is at 30 Mont Vernon St., Milford, and there is plenty of parking in the Milford Post Office lot next door and across the street at the Rite Aid Pharmacy.

After dinner, Smiley will sign copies of her book, now out in paperback. She teaches journalism at the University of Maine, writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column and is also the author of a memoir, “Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife,” and a collection of essays, “I’m Just Saying …”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.