Longform

Denver's Own Royal Tenenbaums

There's always room for one more at the Tillemann-Dicks' dinner table.

Armed with fine silver and blue china, Shiloh Benson Tillemann-Dick, eighteen, carefully sets the lace-draped table, which is large enough for a corporate boardroom. His eleven-year-old brother, Zenith Wisdom, meanwhile, wrestles Nordik, the family's Great Pyrenees, into a side room where the volatile beast can't wreak so much havoc.

Out from the kitchen glides Charity Sunshine, their 24-year-old sister, holding aloft a heaping serving bowl of pasta she just pulled together. Under the soft glow of the dimly lit crystal chandeliers, noodles are ladled onto plates and passed around to Annette, the prettily perfect children's mother, at the head of the table, and her giggling youngest daughters, Mercina Grace, sixteen, and Gloriana Willow, fourteen.

Another dish goes to Abdul Salem, the Tillemann-Dicks' latest foreign exchange student (one of about 150 the family has hosted over the years) who eyes it suspiciously and begins furiously fiddling with his electronic pocket translator, struggling for an understandable query over the din of chattering voices. After several failed attempts — "peek?" "pink?" — the family grasps what he's getting at: Is there pig in the food?

"No, no!" cries Annette. As she had assured Abdul when he arrived from Libya a few days before, he wouldn't have to worry about defying his Muslim faith by eating pork. As followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the family doesn't eat meat — or partake in alcohol or coffee, for that matter — since they are all discouraged in Mormon doctrine.

She can't blame Abdul for being leery, though, says Annette, laughing. The day after he'd been told about the family's food restrictions, he'd opened the refrigerator to discover two colossal, succulent hams — remnants from the recent funeral.

So, what is in the pasta?

Well, explains Charity with her distinctive effervescence, the meal's based on a song she wrote for her latest composition, Facebook: The Musical. And with little prompting she launches merrily into the piece, and her remarkable soprano voice — one that's been heard on professional opera stages around the world — fills the room:

One part ricotta,

Some thyme and soft goat cheese, with dried porcinis, some garlic and white wine

Mixed all together with some linguini

Or spinach tortellini

Will be so sublime ah ah ah ah!

Charity is looking for constructive criticism, as she'll be off to Los Angeles next week to pitch the musical to potential patrons. But that doesn't mean that this big, white eight-bedroom house on West 46th Avenue will be any quieter. Aside from the five siblings here tonight, Annette's other six children are all scheduled for Denver stopovers, bringing with them tales that suggest they're angling for Tillemann-Dick world domination (see sidebar).

For instance, Liberty Belle, twenty, will soon be arriving from Baltimore, where her advanced studies in the history of science, medicine and technology have barely been slowed by the fact that her foot was recently run over by a car. With her will be her 22-year-old brother, Corban Israel, though he'll only be around for a few days before he heads to China on assignment for a global strategic communications firm. Then Kimber Rainbow, the oldest daughter at 28, will take time off from her Washington, D.C., public-relations job to spend the summer in Denver. Her husband, David (whom they all love, whispers Annette, even though he's a Republican), has already arrived, bringing with him their pet Yorkies and two-week-old puppy, which have already blended into the menagerie of dogs, birds and other creatures populating the grand mansion. Eventually, 26-year-old Levi Mills and 29-year-old Tomicah Sterling should be stopping by, just as soon as the former takes a break from his research for Pulitzer Prize-winning economic writer Daniel Yergin and the latter gets away from his duties as a staffer for the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Last but not least, there will certainly be a visit or two by Dulcia, the Tillemann-Dicks' adopted daughter from Honduras, who's either 38 or 39 — no one knows for sure.

This evening is hectic enough as the dinner conversation bounces erratically here and there and different voices jockey for attention. One minute, someone is explaining the macrobiotic diet recommended by dear friend Dennis Kucinich; the next, someone else is chortling about a Samoan village chief, another acquaintance, who terrified the children by promising to hold a luau and serve up the pet potbellied pig they once owned.

Before long, someone brings up their father, Timber Dick, who died on April 10 from injuries sustained in a car accident. There's talk of the strange foods Timber cooked up as a child, like Cap'n Crunch Cake and Aspen Bark Bacon, much to the chagrin of his mother, Nancy Dick, who survived the ordeal and went on to become Colorado's first female lieutenant governor. There's guffawing about all the head injuries Timber suffered growing up, one cracked skull after another that never seemed to temper the cerebral intensity between his thinning hair and thoughtful, bespectacled eyes. And there are recollections, too, of the sacrifices he made for his family, like more or less giving up his beloved barbecue ribs when it was decided the clan would become vegetarians.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner