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.