Monday, December 08, 2008

Sunday Dinner.

Yesterday I took part in a venerable American tradition that I've been aware of for decades. I don't recall the first time I heard of the "Sunday Dinner", but I imagine I must have been told about it from one of my schoolmates. We didn't do it at my house. It's not like we didn't eat on the Sabbath, but it wasn't any big deal. There was nothing special about that meal. I guess because I've never really experienced it, I find the idea rather charming. To get together once every week with extended family and friends seems like a valuable habit. It can be the linchpin for a close-knit community of support and camaraderie. I think it could be something that I would look forward to throughout the rest of the week.

As it is, my side of the family has been scattered by our individual temperaments. I don't remember there being any kind of pressures or expectations regarding staying in the place where I grew up. That's a bit strange because my patriarchal line has lived in Eastern Pennsylvania for about 280 years. It occurs to me to wonder why and how we lost our ties to the land. Maybe things like "Sunday Dinners" are the brick-and-mortar of stable and sustained association. I can only speculate how these things work. I wasn't born in a small town... I don't live in a small town. I don't particularly relate to the songs of John Mellencamp. I've conditioned myself to avoid the type of sentiment that trades in "quaint virtues".

One major impediment to building a template for a regular event like a "Sunday Dinner" is my own (and my wife's) relative indifference to preparing food. I hate to think of the type of fare that would be provided if I was in charge of the table. The gracious host that welcomed my friends and I yesterday put out homemade vegetable lasagna, mushroom-barley cream soup, and fresh bread. Her son made a pumpkin pie with a brandy sauce from scratch. There was even unpasteurized whole milk fresh from a local farm. Now that's good eating, and something I rarely get. But it was really the company that ultimately made the evening. We sat around a big wooden table across from each other.

My typical supper consists of a cold-cut sandwich or something I pop into the microwave directly from the freezer. Occasionally I cook up some spaghetti, but use all processed ingredients. I wouldn't feel right about serving up that kind of stuff for the rest of my little family, let alone other guests. Yet it would be extremely satisfying to gather in the domestic bosom and "break bread". I wouldn't be downing my food while surfing the computer, or watching television. There would be real conversation, like last night. It happened to be the case that I knew everyone our host had invited to her place, yet my interactions with each of them had been in separate circumstances. That added another dimension to the discussion.

After we were done eating, no one rush off right away to meet other obligations. We lingered and continued talking. We relaxed and enjoyed a smoke or two. I think that's a necessary component for doing the "Sunday Dinner" properly (not the combustibles, but the pause from the everyday hustle-and-bustle). I'm not a particularly religious man, but there is something to be said for a "day of rest". That doesn't mean nursing a Saturday-night hangover, half-dazed on the sofa in front of some bad programming. Instead it's akin to a considered reappraisal of priorities and attitudes. There's something inherently beneficial in this sort of interaction. Folks tend to come into better focus.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I imagine if you research the roots of the traditional Sunday dinner it goes back to the days when most framed the land, and Sunday was a day for a little time of relaxation from daily chores with family. It probably still is if you lived on a farm. I thought it had pretty much stopped with my parents generation, but I'm glad to hear it's still practiced.

My parents always did a Sunday dinner, most of the time with my Dad's Mom and aunts and uncles at various times. I can remember some interesting meals. Of course there was the beef roast, but also chicken and waffles, and perhaps the strangest, soft boiled eggs broken over french fries. Yes, you heard it here.

Once a month or so we'd all get in the car and head an hour north to my Mother's parents for Sunday parents, where we'd go to church, Sunday School and then to their house for a big dinner.

I'd bet that when you were young, you often headed to your Grandmother or Grandparents for a big Sunday dinner, though with fewer guests.. :-)

It was a good tradition...too bad it's been lost. Thanks for bringing back memories.


5:10 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

There's nothing like a smoke and a cold drink after a big meal with gracious company. One of the best traditions ever...

6:53 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Yeah. I remember going to my grandparents' houses for dinner... I just don't remember it being any kind of Sunday tradition.

Never heard of the soft-boiled eggs over fries.


I totally agree.

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps in this economy our society might be exploring simple pleasures. I grew up in a small town with Sunday dinners at my grandmothers and I've always considered myself lucky for that. JM

9:12 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I think there are a lot of folks that are going to be beginning a process of re-evaluation where pleasures are concerned.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

Your comment about enjoying a smoke or two after the family dinner reminded me of my grandfather, who after lighting his pipe at the table, pushed back his chair and snuffed out his match in the mashed potatoes left on his plate. That happened more than once.

It's odd, that particular memory sticking in my head.

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Funny you mention that, as I have also mentioned it to others lately. In my case, I said it was one of the reasons I never started to smoke. Before he did that with his match, can you imagine how it look with the end of a cigarette? It's still a good memory though.

9:34 PM  

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