A few years ago I began to wonder what happened to the Sunday supper (or dinner). I don’t serve one. My kid didn’t grow up with one. I’m not invited to any, though that’s certainly not an indication of their existence. But when people talk about them, they often speak of them as a memory, something they did in childhood.
Sunday supper might have not happened every Sunday for every family, but it was regular enough that when a kid got called away from a game in someone’s yard it was probably the end of playing since others would follow. We were all Christian of some kind, and Sunday meant dinner with close family and relatives we rarely saw. The streets were quiet every Sunday of my childhood.
Sunday suppers as I remember them
My sisters, who were older, have different memories. I know this is how memory works, but sometimes it didn’t even seem like we lived in the same family. For me, from age eight to ten, in the first half of the 60s, Sunday supper meant getting in the family car and driving to a relative’s house at the early hour of 5:pm. Our car was a 1961(ish), brown Ford Galaxie 500 (sort of like this). It was such great name for a car, though I see now that the 500 meant nothing. Cars, similar to ours, with their own pointless numbers, left their driveways early Sunday evenings. All of them were full of families in good clothes. The same cars returned a few hours later, everyone rumpled and spent.
But between the going and coming there was the dinner. And pop. That was something we never had because all that sugar would ruin our dinner (the truth). In everyday life, sugar was for desserts, which my mother rarely bothered with because she didn’t care about dessert and she was the cook.
The food at Sunday supper seemed as opulent as Christmas dinner but without the yule log candle holders made at summer camp. I have sisters who are twins; everything came in twos and those two lumpy logs took up valuable food space. Sunday dinners also included good china and the lazy Susan (why was Susan so lazy?) filled with pickled beets, maybe those green olives with pimentos (the kind on my logo), pickles that looked good but weren’t, and a crabapple jelly or some condiment for the meat. Plus it was a meal with dessert.
Our manners also got special treatment. We got the be-on-your-best-behaviour talk from my dad – no slouching, no slurping (as though this would be tolerated anywhere), no interrupting! These talks had a hint of the military in them. My dad only had girls and with attitude (given to us, in part, by the very person giving the lecture) but we got the message even if we weren’t appropriately solemn – be a credit to our name. Invoking the family name meant no fooling around.
Sunday dinner with relatives was comfortable. Whether we liked the relatives or not, we were a tribe. It would have been the same for my friends, though we didn’t bother ourselves with talking about this ordinariness unless some relative did something outrageous, like fall down drunk. No one ever did that though. Our behaviour was from some unwritten rule book about Canadian middle-class refinement. Getting drunk was not classy. Neither was a woman with too much makeup. Good heavens (as the adults said), if a woman’s slip was showing (below her dress) one woman would quietly say so to the unwitting, who then would retreat to the bathroom to hike it up. I’m not at all nostalgic about slips or garter belts or pads or any of the unmentionables. I figure they were unmentionable because they were so awful.
We weren’t Baptists or Puritans or anti-alcohol even though the United Church, where we went, served Welches grape juice at communion (maybe now they serve cranberry juice, more the colour of the blood of Christ). Adults at our Sunday suppers had before dinner drinks and (bad) wine with the meal. I never saw any behaviour past spirited.
If it was a supper with lots of people, it had a kids’ table in the kitchen. A kids’ table was even better than pop. It meant we could freely play with our food, like build mashed potato castles with moats to be flooded with rivers of gravy. Adults were always telling us not to play with our food, that it would be cold by the time we got to eating it. Why do kids grow up to be adults who think kids care about hot food? I know I have.
Adults were BORING. Their table talk was usually farm news or political discussions (this is when the spirited came out). The only showing off we kids were allowed to do, if we had to be at the adult table, was to be silent. School was not considered a topic. Probably because we didn’t think to report Billy’s top marks but instead remarked on his most interesting feature, his ability to fart on demand. Being stuck at that table meant listening to the adults. No surprise, I formed many of my current political beliefs from their conversations.
There came a time when my oldest sister participated in the adult conversation and no longer sat at the kids’ table. This was a right of passage though I’m pretty sure she thought the whole lot of us – kids and adults – were a waste of her time. That’s the way it is for 17 year-olds, then and now.
Where did Sunday supper go?
Why did it go away? Did it go out the door with not going to church? Maybe it went away because it was not exactly a day of rest for the women who made most of it happen.
On Sunday mornings, my mother would have had to get us ready for church in our Sunday best. Clothes, she presumably ironed. I’m guessing at that as I was playing outside, not paying any attention to her unless it was about me. All I know is that there were no wrinkles in my clothes. When she came home from church she would have a sit-down lunch for all of us. We kids cleaned up (my sisters would say I did not; maybe that’s true), but soon after my mother would have to start the evening meal. Maybe when women started going out to work, as she did, Sunday supper was one chore too much. For sure we stopped going to church. I certainly did not miss that.
Today, Sunday dinner time, in the summer anyway, is filled with the sound of weed eaters and power washers. It seems like an odd time to want to do those chores. That time will always be quiet time for me even if there is no meal.
We don’t need church to get together and eat but it does put me in a state of mind for feeling blessed. And what is good food but a blessing?