Sunday night dinner. A time-honored tradition. Used to be that Sunday night was the one night a week everyone could be accounted for at the dinner table. Sometimes the big meal would be right after church, somewhere between noon and two. Something that Southerners refer to as “dinner.”
Having parents rooted in New England tradition, they would scoff and say, “That’s naht dinnah. That’s lunch. When the heck do they eat suppah?”
Now, my parents never had the big meal right after church. My dad would normally shove a roast in the oven around ten in the morning, just as we were leaving for church...he managed to escape church most Sundays, begging off with “somebuddy’s gotta watch the padaydahs!” By the time ‘suppah’ came rollin’ around, we’d be fightin’ for space at the oven door, one of the many of us would be flippin the oven light on and off while the rest of us would be fighting for a glimpse of whatever happened to be cooking that day. At around five o’clock, sometimes six, the meat had had several hours to go from a big ol’ honkin’ hunkomeat to something that looked akin to a Wendys single.
My father burned everything. If he didn’t boil it to death first. That lovely roast that looked as if it would feed half the neighborhood? By the time it reached the dinner table it was about as big as his fist. How my mother managed to salvage any gravy is still a wonder to this day. It got so that we really didn’t know any better. Until we went on vacation one summer.
We headed back up to New England, sometime around 1972, all of us piled into the hot and sweaty station wagon. My father drove the entire way, listening to AM radio and baseball. My mother was responsible for reading the map and reaching back to swat anyone that got out of line. We never had the air conditioning on, because I don’t think my dad ever bought a car that had it until he made sure every last one of us had moved out of the house.
Anyway, the two day drive up to the Netherlands was always the worst. I dreaded it every time we had to go more than a mile, because I always always always got car sick.
So we finally reached our destination, camping out with my mother’s parents in their lovely little apartment. They lived in a “triple-deckah,” on the second floor. I never ate much there because I lived in fear of my grandfather. He was harmless, of course, but loved to intimidate. He was very good at it.
My dad’s oldest brother called one afternoon and invited us all over for “suppah.” I thought to myself, “There will never be enough food to feed all of these people,” knowing that my uncle had a few still at home, too.
We got to my uncle’s house, and he and my aunt were just wonderful. Happy, affectionate, funny — and they had plenty of snacks and “tonic” on hand. Man, my uncle was sharp. He had planned ahead.
When we first walked through the door, I remember all of us kids looking at each other and finally my younger brother piped up and said, “What’s that smell?”
“That’s yah suppah in the oven!” my uncle replied with a big smile, “should be ready in about a half ow-ah!”
Big smiles all around. It smiled divine!
When it was time to eat, we all gathered around our respective tables and my uncle carried out the biggest hunk of meat I ever saw.
“What’s that?” I blurted out, thinking it was a side of wildebeest or something.
“A roast! Haven’t you evah seen a roast?” he asked.
“Not like that!” we all replied. “What does it taste like?”
“Well, sit down and find out!” he said, laughing.
He sliced up that big ol’ beautiful roast as my aunt dolloped mashed padayduhs on our plates, poured gravy for whomever wanted, and we passed around dishes of beautifully colored vegetables.
“Hey!” my little brother squeaked, “how come our vegetables don’t look like this?”
My mother said, “Ow-ah vegetables come from a can. These are fresh from your uncle’s gahden!”
I made a mental note to write a letter of complaint to the Jolly Green Giant!
It was truly a meal to remember.
Upon returning home, my father went back to his grand wizardry in the kitchen. At the usual time, he produced the usual thing. Blackened something or other.
We sat there, looking miserably at our plates until he finally said, “Fine! Don’t eat it! All the more fah me and yah mutha!”
It was the only time we got away with having baloney sandwiches for suppah.
Remember that old rap song, “Rapper’s Delight,” where they rap/sing: Ever went over a friend’s house to eat and the food just ain’t no good ... I said the macaroni’s soggy, the peas are mush-y and the chicken tastes like wood...”? Remember that?
Mmhmm. Our house.
The chicken story shall be left for another time.
Ellen Lambert is a former Guyton resident.