Whatever happened to Sunday dinner – where did it go? Was it packed up in the attic, along with the iced tea spoons, damask tablecloths, lace doilies, and sherbert dishes? Deposited in the cedar closet with the short white gloves, petticoats, and fox fur stoles? Truth be told, I believe it is buried under the shade trees in the cemetery where the women who cooked it now lie.
At least once a month when I was a child in Savannah, we went to Henny’s house for Sunday dinner, as soon as the 11:00 service let out at the Lutheran Church of the Ascension. Henny would have slipped out of the choir stall a little earlier to get home and get everything she’d cooked early that morning or the day before heated up.
It was usually a feast of fried chicken, ham, or pot roast accompanied by butterbeans or green beans, halved yellow squash topped with strips of American cheese and crumbled bacon, hot Sunbeam rolls, steamed white rice and salty gravy, along with Henny’s homemade artichoke relish. Sometimes there was a congealed salad with things like pineapple bits, banana slices, grated carrots, or chopped pecans suspended in orange or red jello. For dessert we might have Carolina trifle, pineapple-upside-down cake, or just some Neapolitan ice milk.
It was a gathering of cousins, Lutheran cousins, as our Catholic cousins all ate together on Sunday night. We didn’t eat in the dining room as that was where the food was set out. The women and the older men sat at card tables, but the younger men were allowed to take their plates into the TV room and watch football. We made a circle and held hands and sang the Doxology before we ate, which was always hysterical to me as we did not sound a bit like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Until I was eight, I was the only child in the entire extended family, and I always gravitated to the men in the TV room. I’d pick at my plate of food and then, like a lap dog or affectionate cat, work my way around the room, crawling into my daddy’s lap, or the laps of my grown cousins Joe and Billy, draping one skinny arm around their necks. After everyone finished dinner, the women pitched in to wash and dry the dishes. My mother always made me take off my Sunday School dress and lie down in my slip in the back bedroom. I hated this, as I never went to sleep. I would lie there listening to the adults’ murmuring and laughter, the clink of the crystal as the tables were set off, the sound of plates being scraped, the men shouting “Go, go, go!” at the television set.
My own children never had it so good. First of all, they grew up in the big, bustling city of Atlanta without much family nearby. The four of us went to church, but we were usually in a rush to get home afterward. Always in a rush. There were soccer or volleyball games to be played and mountains of homework to be scaled. Sometimes we stopped at a Mexican restaurant after church, but usually we went home, where I made everybody a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with carrot sticks, grapes, and yogurt on the side. My husband mowed the lawn or went into the office; I did a load of laundry and cracked the whip on the homework – or we all went and watched somebody’s soccer game.
We continue to try to make family connections on Sundays. I always call my mother in Savannah, and my daughter always calls us from college in Chapel Hill. But now Sunday afternoon is more of a lonesome time–quiet and spare. And I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t even know how to make gravy.