Only on a Sunday

So many of my childhood memories are tied up with food,  Mam-maw and the Sabbath (which I later learned wasn’t strictly the biblical Sabbath, since that would have been a Saturday, but my grandfather called Sunday the Sabbath, and whatever he said was gospel!)  Sunday mornings were a whirl of activity, afternoons were given over to rest, Sunday evening, more activity, and then, blessed be,  came Sunday supper.

Mam-maw cooked breakfast every morning and Sunday was no exception. Scrambled eggs, always scrambled, never sunny side up or over easy, in which she whisked evaporated milk and crumbled breakfast meat, such as ground sausage or bacon.  Occasionally and only very occasionally, she would cut hot dogs into small pieces and drop them into the mixture.    Those were the days before any warnings about processed foods, preservatives and red food coloring, and so we freely ate frankfurters, bologna and pickle loaf!  My favorite breakfast food was homemade strawberry preserves on toast, or maybe blackberry, or cherry, well I liked almost any kind of preserve, jam or jelly.  I didn’t care for orange marmalade, but I would eat it if it were the only sweetness available.  My grandmother believed that there should be something sweet with every meal.   Alas for my now expanding waistline, I continue to feel the same way!

I grew up on spaghetti and meat loaf, hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls and stuffed with cheese, fried pork chops and gravy, fried chicken and gravy, fried anything and yes, with gravy.  I ate everything my grandmother put on the table, there were  only two things I didn’t like.  Later in life I learned there were many foods I’d never tried and some of them I didn’t like, either, but growing up, there were only 2 foods i didn’t like, beets and carrots.  Didn’t matter how they were prepared, I couldn’t abide them.   When my grandmother cooked liver and onions, with side dishes of spinach and mashed potatoes, I was thrilled.  Other things like okra, brussels sprouts, broccoli, all manner of squashes and beans,  were welcome sights on my plate.  I also craved my grandmother’s homemade pimiento cheese, which I make to this day when I need real comfort food.  The secret ingredient was Velveeta cheese!  And even though I strive to eat healthier now, sometimes Velveeta is the only thing that will satisfy my longing.

Visiting other people’s homes was very trying for me.   Traditional fare was served, such as pot roast with the requisite potatoes onions and carrots, fried chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and peas or corn.  If someone went outside the box and cooked a ham, they would cover it with orange marmalade, and I’ve already told you how I feel about that!   At every meal, I was required to eat everything on my plate, which was never a problem for me, except when we visited someone else’s home.  At my house, I could say, I don’t want any of that, and avoid carrots and beets completely.  But,  visiting, I was told I had to try some of everything and then I had to eat it all whether I liked it or not.  It made for a very unhappy Sunday afternoon.    I didn’t understand at the time how two people could cook the exact same food and one dish (my grandmother’s)  would be scrumptiou and the other dish (anybody else’s) would taste horrible.  Mam-maw cooked ordinary food extraordinarily well.  Her seasonings were simple, salt, no pepper, sometimes a little bit of  garlic, thyme, or oregano.   Some of the things people put in gravy are unforgivable.  Mrs. Delaney used so much pepper that I would have sneezing fits and be told to leave the table (which I welcomed greatly!)  And I swore that Mrs. Kaufman used dirt instead of cocoa in her hot chocolate!!

On the rare Sunday when we weren’t invited to have lunch with a member of the congregation, we ate at a restaurant.  Always the same one.  I have no idea what the name of it might have been, or what they had on the menu besides french fries, but it was absolutely my favorite thing.  We would go in, always sitting at the same table, as if it had our name on it.  The waitress would come to take our order carrying a brand new unopened bottle of ketchup and she would remove the nearly full bottle already on the table!  Then without another word, when she brought the menus out she would bring me a plate of french fries.  I could make one small order of french fries last through a whole bottle of ketchup and nobody stopped me.  Dip a fry in the ketchup, lick it off, then swipe it through the ketchup again.  And no one ever told me that it wasn’t okay to do that!

After an afternoon resting, we would go back to church for vespers.  Long winded prayers and longer songs.  By the time we got out of church and drove home, we were all famished.  And just as predictably as my grandmother cooking breakfast was the supper she laid on the table Sunday evenings;  peanut butter, Karo syrup (light and dark) and margarine, three bowls and three glasses of milk.  We would put a tbsp of peanut butter in the bowl, followed by pouring the Karo syrup on top of that, stir it around until it was all mixed together, then break a slice of Hostess white bread into the concoction, let it sit just long enough to soak up a little syrup, then spear it, lean over the bowl and poke it in our mouths.  Heaven!  Granddaddy liked to have margarine and dark syrup for is second bowl, I always wanted peanut butter and light syrup in mine.   When were fully satiated, the table was cleared, dishes washed and dried (without the benefit of an electric dishwasher) and Sundays drew to a close.

The Early Years

10151836_753942654658392_5272424816934146245_nOnce you have a told a story a hundred times or more, the telling becomes the most important thing, and the experience is effectively lost. I can still remember the feeling of following my brother down the alley to catch horned toads, putting them into a shoebox, hiding them under my bed because if Mother found them, she would march me right out into the back yard and make me upend the box and let the lizard go. I can still feel the look of disappointment on her face: “You should never cage one of God’s creations,” she said. I never understood why it was okay to tie Tiger, our Boxer, to a leash secured to a stake in the ground, but it wasn’t okay to keep a toad in a box. The other things, the little thing in my life: sitting by the fireplace playing monopoly with my childhood friend; shelling creamed peas while the bushel basket became empty and the Mason jars were filled, first with the peas and then with hot water; watching The Price is Right hosted by a young Bob Barker, and later in the day cutting pictures out of magazines, creating our own showcase; those moments I treasured but didn’t often recount. The stories I did tell, the “awful mute appeal” of little Dora recounted by David Copperfield in the book of the same name by Charles Dickens, and the way it paralleled by own grief of having to leave my grandparent’s home to move back in with Mother and Daddy, that was a story!! And that was a story that had become a part of my personality; no longer a memory, but a piece of history. Carol Shields in her book, Unless, states “anyone’s childhood can be an act of disablement if rehearsed and replayed and squinted at in a certain light.” I resonate with that quote because I know how truly disabling my childhood was, and not the least of it, by my own interpretations of the facts, so I was intrigued by the idea of disabling the memories to liberate myself. Although the first seven years of my life were bright; the following five were by my own definition: gloomy. In my memory, the light begins to fade when I first hid under the bed to escape the hands of my father. While I have remembered that as my first distinct memory, the retelling of it has no doubt distorted the actual facts. Like David Copperfield, I was born. (I’ve wanted to use that line for nearly forty years, at first not knowing that it would be plagiarism, then knowing it would be and not daring to use the phrase at all, finally learning that if I cite the source, I can use anything I please!) I only know this by history; I am fairly well assured by my belly button that mine was not an alien hatching; and my mother told me that I was born in an Army hospital, although that was all she told me, because in the 1950’s you didn’t talk to children about the really important things. (I well remember my mother and grandmother whispering in the kitchen about my mother’s latest pregnancy, which no one was supposed to notice, and definitely not comment upon.) At any rate, like everything else about me, the story of my early years strikes me as unusual. At least it seemed so to me when I discovered certain facts at sixteen. Most kids didn’t live with their grandparents when their parents were perfectly capable of caring for them. I was delighted to live with my grandparents, but the truth of the matter is my Mam-maw was my strongest attachment, and my mother someone that came to visit every other weekend. There is no story of abuse or neglect, no court involvement, the matter of the fact was that in 1948 there was no childcare for infants. My mother had to work and there was no one else to care for me. My five year old sister, MH and my four year old brother, Buddy, also stayed with Mam-maw during the day for the first few months, as did I, but then the story goes that Mam-maw and Granddaddy had to move to San Antonio for a reason unknown to me and not knowing what else to do, Mother sent the baby (Me) with them. And so it was that I spent the first six years of my life in relative luxury, treated like a little princess. with permed hair as early as three years old wearing a fur coat with a muff instead of mittens. It was the happiest time of my life. Even now…