I’m sitting at a supper table in a formal dining room. Pork roast with mashed potatoes and gravy on my plate. Portions of green beans and squash casserole. A whipped cream side dish that my dad would have referred to as ‘calf-slobber’. Sweet tea to wash it all down.
This is the American pass-time. Feeding the stomach with enough carbohydrates and starch to satisfy the defensive front four of an SEC football team. Feeding the soul with a running conversation that spans the last 45 years.
The food was great. Fork and knife crossed on my empty plate. I pushed my chair back a bit and turned it slightly to one side where could cross my left ankle over my right knee and still reach my tea glass.
“Use to, we’d finish a meal like this, and we’d all go out in the back yard to sit in chairs under the shade trees. Us kids would run around playing chase or catching lightning bugs while all the adults visited and did whatever adults did back then.”
One of the gals said, “We all sat on the front porch ‘til dark. Nobody really wanted to go home.”
When I was a kid, the evening meal was the central part of our day. No one ever made a hard and fast rule. I don’t remember it being written in stone or taught in school. But whatever was going on in our lives stopped for supper. It was just understood that whatever time Mama said to be home, I had better be on my bike and have my seat in the seat at the table for supper.
Working in the garden could wait. Baseball could wait. Piano practice could wait. TV for sure could wait, and there were no DVR pause or record buttons back in the dinosaur days, either.
The first kitchen table I remember had a metal frame with chrome legs and a wide shinny band around the tabletop. The laminate top was red with little boomerang-looking designs by the thousands. The chairs had chrome legs with a cushioned seat and back covered in red vinyl that sparkled. There are birthday photos with Roy Rogers outfits to prove it.
When the kids were maybe Jr. High/High School age, we took a trip to DC. At the time, my cousins, Wes and Betty, lived just across the Potomac. They gave us a place to stay, and yep, we all had supper around their table a few times while we were there.
On one of our excursions into the city we took the kids to the Smithsonian, which is a museum consisting of multiple buildings that cover more square footage than an Atlanta shopping mall. When we got to the Americana Museum, I was a little taken back to see my mama’s kitchen on display. The same table and chairs. The same wooden spoon on the wall. Jell-O molds. Metal cabinets and a cast-iron enamel sink with a chrome faucet.
I always wondered if our actual table made it somehow to the Smithsonian.
Three conversations were going on at one time. Our hostess announced that she had dessert. I said, “Why else would there be a spoon on the table with each place setting?”
At our house, there was never a spoon unless there was dessert. The presence of a spoon by my plate meant maybe peach cobbler. Before the meal even started, Dad would pick up his spoon and catch my eye. He’d twitch his head and flash his eyes at the spoon. I’d grab my spoon, “Oooooh! Dessert.”
Pam disappeared to the kitchen and returned with a huge clear glass bowl looking thing that had an oversized wine glass stem on the bottom. It was filled with blueberries, and strawberries, and bananas, and shortcake, and more calf slobber.
She sat it on the table. “Y’all want dessert now or you want to save it for later?”
Hank said, “Well, I was kind of expecting it now. It’d be a shame for you to have to take it back to the kitchen.”
At that she produced a small coal shovel for a spoon and started filling bowls.
“Just one scoop for me,” Allen said.
Ronda turned and raised her eyebrows at the man she’s been married to for over 40 years. “You sick or something?”
“Naw. Naw.” Allen was grinning. “If I take one now, that’ll leave room for two later.”
We all finally pushed back from the table one more time. Somebody suggested we move to the padded seats in the living room. We all carried bowls and spoons and napkins with us as we filed through the kitchen. Dishes clinking in the sink. The sound of water flowing steady from the faucet.
You see, the sitting and talking is all part of the meal. When someone says that you should come over for supper sometime, the invite is always about more than just the gravy and biscuits. The food is the prelude. The visit is the main attraction.
Mom and dad didn’t have many neighbors who were not family when I was a kid. But after I was grown and gone, and more houses were built along that stretch of Hampton-Locust Grove Road, they invited folks over for supper. They always had church friends over, but this was different. They sat down at the kitchen table with the new neighbors they didn’t really know, just so they could get to know them.
Food served at the evening meal has magical powers.
As the evening wore on, the tea started to back up to the point of no return. I excused myself to the restroom. I heard one of the gals from the living room holler, “Don’t forget to lift the seat.” Like I’m a neanderthal.
It’s not often that you have something to read in the residential restroom while standing facing the wall. This is common in restaurant facilities. Not so much at the family home.
The sign was quoting scripture. “With men, this is impossible but with God, all things are possible.” Standing there in that particular moment, this verse had a whole new meaning for me. I found inspiration and gladly shared my newfound insight with the whole group.
Before the evening was over, we all migrated out to the back patio to inspect the hot tub. Gray haired folks oohing and aweing over a modern contraption designed to boil your insides like the proverbial frog in the kettle pot. Like missionaries in the Congo.
Thank God, none of us came prepared to get in.
Dusk was settling in. It occurred to me that everyone else either lived here or was already spending the night here. I was the only one who actually needed to leave and drive home.
I stood from my chair. “Thanks for supper. It was really good to see everybody.”
I walked around the end of the house to my truck. Backed out of the driveway into the street. I turned and saw that Henry had walked through the house to the front walk to wave me off.
Two short honks and a wave back.
That was one fine meal.