Sunday dinner was special when we were growing up. We usually either went to someone’s house for dinner after church or asked a family to come to our house. To prepare for Sunday dinner, one of us had to go out to the chicken house Saturday and catch a chicken. I will spare you the details of the next couple of steps. Suffice it to say that we prepared the chicken for the frying pan. We all worked hard to get ready for Sunday. On Saturday the house would be cleaned, and cleaned well. The floors would be washed; the furniture and the baseboards would be dusted. The youngest children would do the dusting. The coal range would be blackened. My mother would make bread for the whole week as well as making Kuchen for Sunday morning. She would also bake pies or a cake for dessert. She would make Jello with fruit in it. That is what we would eat for Sunday night supper, along with sandwiches. In the summer we would go out into the garden and get fresh vegetable for the next day. We would dig potatoes and pick cucumbers, tomatoes and radishes, peas or beans and pull carrots. Mother called this “Saturday Work.”
Mother was a good cook and I can see her browning the chicken Sunday morning and then covering it and letting it cook very, very slowly on the coal range until we got home from church. We would set the dining room table with Mother’s best table cloth and her dishes. She loved her dishes. She had ordered them from the catalog and was so proud of them. She would always say that she had never seen another set of the Greek Key Pattern. She had a service for twelve. Since there are six of us, after her death, each of us received two place settings and I think of her every time we use them.
Mother would say, as we drove to church, “I think we should invite the Senners (or the Boeses or the Schwartzes or the Tieszens) for dinner today.” Dinner was the meal that was served at noon on the farm. Sometimes we would be invited to another family’s home for dinner. After Sunday School and Church, the families would be invited to come and we would go home and finish the preparations. Jars of homemade jam or jelly would be opened and homemade bread would be sliced or homemade rolls would be put on the table. There would always be more than enough. No self-respecting woman would make just enough for those present. There had to be leftovers. The chicken would be put on a platter, the potatoes and vegetables would be put into serving dishes. Cake or pie would be ready to serve for dessert and coffee or iced tea or Kool-Aid, for the children, would be served. Mother would be flushed from bustling about and modest about the meal, pointing out what she perceived to be flaws.
Dinner was fun for all, although looking back, I am sure there was pressure on Mother to make sure the gravy was without lumps and that the pickles and jam and butter were all on the table at the right time. After dinner the older young people would do dishes, the little ones would play and the mothers and fathers would visit. They would talk about the crops and the rain or lack of rain. They would talk about the possibility of hail and what crews were coming up from Kansas to harvest. The women would discuss who was pregnant and who had a baby and what they were making for the Mission Sale. They would talk about how much they had canned and how their gardens were growing.
It was a wonderful time of innocence and honesty and true hospitality and generosity. Mother continued to have this generous hospitality and would frequently invite young people from the church to come for dinner. I don’t think she really had an ulterior motive although three of her daughter married three of these young men. I think she had been taught, and internalized the Bible verses that speak of hospitality as virtue to be cultivated. My sisters all have learned the art of hospitality and it warms my heart to see my daughter continue to entertain, both family and strangers. Hebrews 13:2 exhorts us to “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” I wonder how many angels sat at my mother’s table.
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