Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Dinner

by Robert Giles

To prepare for Sunday dinner, I helped my grandmother peel potatoes. Sunday dinner was a big deal at our house. We were a large family. Mom wanted the fellowship that comes from sitting down to a nice meal. The Sabbath didn't end when church let out - dinner for her family was Mom's personal ministry.

When dinner was over and the dishes were put away, we could go our separate ways.

We ate a lot of potatoes. Besides mashed potatoes, we had Dad's favorite roast and another vegetable. We all appreciated Mom's “Waldorf Salad” made with Jello, apples, and walnut pieces with a little pineapple. For dessert, there was chocolate cake.

Grandma and I soaked the potatoes for a few minutes and scrubbed them lightly with a brush. If a potato was green or soft, we discarded it. The potatoes always had a few “eyes”. Grandma showed me how to dig them out with the tip of my paring knife.

Grandma liked to listen to a radio station in Butler to get the local news. Often we would listen to the news while we peeled. Butler was about 40 miles away so the broadcast was not always free of static. That irritated Grandma.

We once listened to a report about a herd of dairy cows that had ventured out onto the ice on a farm pond. Several cows crashed through the ice and floundered in freezing water until the intrepid farmer got his tractor and pulled them out. Such was the news from Grandma’s home town.

When I asked  her questions, I took her to a whole new level of irritation.

Why are they called "eyes"?
Did you ever grow potatoes up at Summit?
What was Grandpa like?

Grandma never spoke much. When I was newly enlisted, she would criticize my peeling technique, telling me I was cutting too deeply. "You are throwing out the potato with the peel. Don't cut into the flesh." 

A boy who couldn’t peel a potato correctly wasn’t worth much, by Grandma's estimate. I learned to take my time, focus, and peel potatoes so well she was silenced.

Grandma must have had a lot of stories inside her but I wasn’t brave enough to flush them out. It wasn’t that I lacked curiosity.  I was afraid to upset Grandma.  I sensed that she liked to keep her hurts and secrets to herself.

Grandma had a way of deflating a boy with a short, dismissive “hmmpf”. What were all the questions for? She was "Grandma". That's all I needed to know.

We sat and peeled potatoes for about 30 minutes after washing and prepping them. Then we turned them over to Mom to cook and mash.

Grandma sat bent over on her chair. I usually sat on the floor at her feet, my legs folded “Indian-fashion”. (I wonder now if the Indian was American or if this was a lazy man’s yoga posture.)

Grandma was about 80 years old and wore thick support hose. It looked impenetrable, like armor. Sometimes I was tired and wanted to rest my head on her knee but I knew she wouldn’t care for that.

I liked peeling potatoes with Grandma despite the lack of conversation. Maybe we were able to communicate through extra-sensory perception?

We did this chore on Sunday mornings for a number of years. Then, one by one, my sister and brothers drifted away. College, marriage, jobs, friends all pulled us apart. In autumn, there were neighborhood football games. Why sit around the table with the old folks when we could be out on the field scoring touchdowns?

"If we wait until after dinner it will already be dark out."

One Sunday, I suggested that we order pizza.

By then, it must have seemed like too much trouble to get out the “nice” dishes and silver. Maybe Sunday dinner had gone out of fashion. Mother's lace table cloth was fraying around the edges.

Eventually, the only time we had a “real” Sunday dinner was on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Grandma died a few days after her 90th birthday. She never did answer my question about Grandpa.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog brought back memories for me. My mother would put the roast I a low oven to bake while we went to church at St Stanislaus. After church we would sometimes pick up my grandparents on Duss Ave and bring them to our house on HIghland Ave for dinner. It is sad how I considered the whole thing a drag,