My Mama’s Kitchen Table
The best was when one of my uncles came home from the Army. This was close enough after the end of WWII that military men were still heroes, somebody special. My dad was the oldest and it seems that most family gatherings occurred at our house. Still, for those events, my Grandma Myrtis was in charge. Her boys were all home.
We cousins knew that she was going to bring a huge straw basket filled with tea cakes when she came. Just like we knew there would always be tea cakes when we showed up at her house. The challenge was to keep us from eating them all before dinner: which, you understand, was the big middle-of-the-day meal.
In the summer daddy and my uncles moved a couple of tables outside, one onto the porch and another underneath one of the pin oak shade trees just off to the west of the house. The adults got the table on the porch. We kids made do with the other. Often we didn’t even get chairs, not that we especially needed or wanted them. In cooler weather, Thanksgiving or Christmas, the grown-ups got the dining room; we were relegated to the kitchen table.
We were poor in the years of my growing up; we just didn’t know it. Everybody up and down the road was in the same boat. There was not a full set of anything: forks, napkins, plates, glasses. My Aunt Wilma was usually in charge of the table setting. She had a system, as I recall. The best of everything went to Grandpa Enos’ place: the un-chipped plate and glass, the red and white checkered napkin, the fork with no bent tines. Grandma was next in the pecking order. The daughter-in-law with the fewest number of years in the family got what was left!
In the summer, when we had fresh tomatoes and fried okra and piles of roasting ears somebody always said, “Boy, I sure would like to have some fresh game: turkey or venison or rabbit and squirrel.” In the winter, of course, that same person or somebody else would offer up, “Remember that washtub of fresh corn and butterbeans we had last time. That sure would be good right about now.” It was hard to find an argument against either point of view.
You understand that this was in the rural, largely Baptist south. There was no wine, no beer. There was sweet iced tea by the gallon: summer or winter. Milk straight from the cow.
Desserts came by the season. It might be strawberry or blackberry in the spring and early summer; then peaches and apple pie. And who of you ever had a Muscatine hull pie when they were in season? There were never cakes in the summer. They came only after the weather cooled off. Of course lemon margarine pie was a favorite any time of the year.
We played too hard, we cousins, laughed too much. We eat too much. We chased the dying sun across the field toward the sunset; not wanting the day to end.