Sunday dinner when I was a kid was an event. Always after church, always at one o’clock and always a party. My mom’s parents lived just down the road from us and we often went there for dinner after church, or we hosted at our house.
The meal was usually roast beef or a roast chicken, cooked in the oven with vegetables while we were all at church. Grandma always made gravy, though Mom made it only sometimes. Grandma almost always had mashed potatoes and Mom usually put the potatoes in with the meat. And Grandma always had buttered French bread, heated in the oven. Not the healthiest, but when I was older I really liked to have a slice or two of that bread smothered in beef gravy. I can taste it now, though I probably wouldn’t eat it anymore. Though maybe one piece…
Usually it was my grandparents, my parents and my brother and I, my great aunt and my mom’s brother. We lived in a rural community about an hour south of St. Louis. My uncle lived in the city then, but came out to the country for the weekends. He had a cabin he built on land just down the road from us. My great aunt lived next door to my grandparents. I was impressed that she was born in 1900, and that she didn’t seem as old as she was. She always slipped us kids a dollar when no one else was looking. And she always whispered to us not to tell our parents. I never could figure out why it was supposed to be a secret, because everyone knew about it.
And we always had dessert. My brother, who is four years older than me, started that one. They were at Grandma’s for Sunday dinner when he was about five and when they had eaten, he was waiting expectantly. No dessert appeared and when he asked Grandma, she said there wasn’t any. He said, “But there’s always dessert!” And so the dessert tradition was born.
There was always ice cream, and usually pie, cake or cookies too. Grandma really liked angel food cake, so we had that often, sometimes with her special butterscotch icing, other times with sugared strawberries or peaches. I remember once she had vanilla ice cream and brought out a container of brown sauce with pecans and mysterious bits in it. She made us all guess what it was. My brother finally figured out it was pecan pie – the bits were pieces of crust. We never did figure out why her pie failed so spectacularly, but it sure made a tasty ice cream topping.
My parents still live in the same house, and my uncle now lives in my grandparents’ house. They share dinner back and forth, but suppertime dinner, not Sunday dinner after church. We live in St. Louis, and see my parents often, but Easter is about the only time we do Sunday dinner after church. Not sure how our Sunday dinner tradition went by the wayside. Probably distance as much as anything. But we always have dessert when we have my parents over for a meal. And I serve it with pride, even when the cake is lopsided or the pie doesn’t set like it should.