What Ever Happened to Supper?
When I was growing up on a farm in Eastern Montana, we had dinner at noon and supper at night. We might have heard about the evening meal being called dinner but we knew that where we lived, dinner was served at noon. The men (to say nothing of the women) had been working hard since dawn and by noon they needed a hearty meal – dinner. They expended a lot of calories – maybe not as many as Michael Phelps – but a lot of calories and needed food. That is why they could eat mountains of meat, potatoes, gravy, vegetables and bread or rolls. On the side would be cucumbers in a cream sauce or dressed with vinegar and a plate of radishes to be eaten with salt. In addition there would be jams and jellies and, of course pickles and chow-chow or some sort of relish. Dessert would usually be pies or perhaps cake. It would all be washed down with pots of coffee or lemonade or orange drink, made from the syrup purchased from the Watkins man. Mom would have basins and pails of water with a towel on a loop so the men could wash up. The last man to wash would get a very damp piece of the towel. They would descend on the big improvised tables set up in the yard, with their hair slicked back, ready to eat whatever was put in front of them. Occasionally they would make an oblique remark about the food at the last place not being as good as this. My mom was a good cook.
When sundown came, they would come back to the house and eat supper, nearly the same meal. Mom would serve chicken or ham or pork or perhaps canned beef. We had dish towels to whisk away the flies and would be occupied with refilling bowls, platters, pitchers, cups and glasses. These crews at harvest time would have been manhandling huge sheaves of grain as well as shoveling the grain after it had been stripped from the stalks or thrashed. Someone would drive the truck to town and take it to the elevator where the grain would be weighed and sold or stored. The grain would have to be shoveled out of the truck in the early days. It was very hard work. It was also exciting to see the threshing crews come up from Kansas and Nebraska and see these young men with their lean muscular bodies and farmer tans sitting around our table. These were people that we hadn’t seen at church and had come from so far away!
In mid morning, Mom and perhaps a hired girl, if we had one, would prepare a midmorning lunch of sandwiches or summer sausage and bread or rolls. There would be the ubiquitous orange drink cooled by chunks of ice chipped of off a block in the Ice House. Whatever fruit was in season would be washed and made ready. Then there would probably be a frosted loaf cake. Sometimes it would be a Devil’s Food with white icing and sometimes a spice cake. We would pack it all up in boxes and drive out to the combine or thresher to feed the men (and girls) lunch. They would take a moment to sit in the shade, take their hats off and rest for a bit as they ate. We didn’t always have a hired girl but during the years when the Second World War raged, there were very few young men to hire so my older sisters worked in the fields. The younger ones worked in the house but we weren’t old enough to be as much help as Mom needed. For the few weeks in the spring, and again in the fall during harvest, Mom would hire a girl to help.
In mid-afternoon, there would be another lunch, perhaps a little heartier than the morning lunch. Sometimes Mom would make potato salad or something like that. In the evenings she perhaps would have Jello as a side dish. The pies would vary – apple, peach, apricot and raisin. The men would eat quickly and go to rest in the twilight by the bunk house. They would quickly fall asleep because dawn would come early. The next morning Mom would have been up early frying ham or sausage and making biscuits or slicing bread. Sometimes there would be chicken fried steak with gravy. There would be platters of eggs, fried potatoes and lots of coffee and perhaps pie for breakfast! Can you imagine? As soon as they were finished they were off for another long day of harvest or planting while Mom and her crew were already baking and cooking for the next meal while the younger ones washed the dishes.
I often wonder how they could work so hard. The farm machinery now has air conditioning and power steering. The trucks have hydraulic systems that empty the grain at the elevators. The houses have dishwashers and freezers and big refrigerators. We had a relatively small ice box. Things are easier now. I wouldn’t want to go back but I miss the call to supper
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