A gentle nudge is sometimes all it takes. Other times, more drastic measures have to be resorted to, but we eventually get to the car to head home. I can’t help it. I’m a last minute conversation guy. We’ve been at the church since before 9:00 AM, but now it’s noon and there are still people to talk with. I’ll never understand the folks who dash out the door immediately after the last “Amen”. I understand that not everybody is put together like I am (thank goodness!), but these visits with friends are some of the best moments of the week. We catch up on children and jobs, even exchange a short joke or two, but we love spending time together. However, the lovely lady is nudging again, so we say our last goodbye and head out. Oh, one or two more conversations along the sidewalk crop up, but we have to keep moving.
What’s the hurry? It’s just another Sunday afternoon, after all! You say that and think you mean it, but you must not understand the meaning of Sunday Dinner. We don’t eat “lunch” after church. We have Dinner! There are important people coming to share our table with us today and we have to get ready. The list of dishes was made earlier this week before the visit to the grocery store yesterday. Roast chicken and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and spinach salad are on the menu today, among other things. The lovely lady was up well before I was this morning, making the dessert and preparing the meat for the oven. Important events like this take planning and preparation!
We spend the last hour working feverishly. I arrange the dining room and set the table, making sure that everything is just so for our VIPs. She puts together the salad while making gravy, rolls, and the vegetables. You understand that her role is much more difficult. I do one thing at a time, while she multi-tasks, stirring this pot, cutting up that salad green, mixing a bowl of ingredients for another dish. She knows better than to push me. I’m hard pressed to remember which side of the plate the fork goes on, much less, not to forget the homemade peach jam. But, we get the work done; me, step by lumbering step; her, gracefully and efficiently.
As the last push comes to get dinner on the table, the important guests begin to arrive. The lovely lady’s mother, accompanied by her brother, comes in first. Great-Grandma lives at the local rehab/nursing center, but she is sharp as ever, noticing a different piano in the living room right away. Brother-in-law plays a few chords on it for her and then, I’m back to the kitchen for some more last minute jobs. Then the doorbell rings again and in come the grandchildren, all calling out “Hi Grandma! Hi Grandpa!”, with varying success in forming the words, but still entirely successful in letting us know they’ve arrived. They are, not coincidentally, accompanied by our daughter and her husband. Bringing up the end of the procession is our son, who also lives in town. His arrival is met with cries of “Steben!” by the kids, who all adore him, although he pretends to be aloof.
With much ado, and very little organization, the dinner commences. Arguments about seating arrangements are par for the course, with the coveted position being the one adjacent to the lovely lady. Those differences settled and drinks having been distributed, we ask the blessing, holding hands around the table. When I was a child, the blessing was a prolonged affair, taking into account the leaders of the country, our missionaries, the heathen in darkest Africa, and various and sundry incidental requests, but, knowing the attention span of those in attendance, we keep ours confined to thanks for the food, and a quick request for showing love to each other. Even with the abbreviated blessing, the next to the youngest manages to get a loud “Amen” out before I can finish, much to the amusement of all at the table.
Dinner is a boisterous affair, with conversations going on at all points of the compass, jokes told, and a few severe instructions issued (“Eat your green beans or no dessert!”, “No, you can’t get up. You haven’t been excused yet!”). Since Great-Grandma is a little hard of hearing, we have to speak up when addressing her and this doesn’t help the level of the din much. Still, good food and good conversation are the order of the hour. Most of this time is spent sharing the events of the week, both trivial and momentous. We laugh, we cry, and the time speeds past. After it’s all done, one by one, the groups of visitors head out, goodbyes and last-minute conversations finished as we stand at the door, with Uncle Steben leaving last after we’ve shared a bit of football time in front of the TV. After some cleanup (not an insignificant task), peace reigns again.
That’s it? That’s what your great Sunday Dinner was all about? Your VIPs were just some family members getting together and eating food? You bet! When we can, we include other family members and friends from church. This is a sacred time. Oh, we don’t spend a lot of our time discussing theology (although that enters into most conversations), but the time spent with family, both old and young, is priceless. Memories are being made. Young minds are learning the respect that is due to those advanced in age by seeing it in practice and they are discovering how we interact with other people. These are occasions that every single one of us will keep in our memories for years to come and treasure for all of our lives. Some of my best memories from childhood are the times when we got together for meals with grandparents, with cousins and aunts and uncles. They were more rare in my experience than they have been for my children and grandchildren, but that doesn’t make them any less cherished.
Family traditions don’t always just happen. Some traditions you have to nourish and labor for. We make this important, because we need this. Our parents, our children, and grandchildren need it. Would it be easier to chuck it and go get dinner at KFC or some local restaurant? You bet, much easier! But, the time we spend nurturing each other and our memories will one day be the subject of the “remember whens?” and even some “when I was young” conversations for their children and grandchildren. All the work (and even leaving church earlier than I want) is a small price to pay for the dividends all along the road.
Oh, and after the hub-bub and cacophony of dinner is finished, the lovely lady and I get to settle into the den for some “down time” (nap for me, stitching for her). It seems that there are other family traditions besides Sunday Dinner that are just about as important.
“After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
(Oscar Wilde~American poet)