In our family, Sunday afternoon means a shared meal around a large, worn table. Everyone is included; the children squeeze in between adults and the volume increases dramatically. The food isn’t fancy or fussy but warm and nourishing and delicious. There is always dessert (usually one of those doctored-up cakes with fruit and maybe whipped cream.) My father thanks the Lord for His blessings and we dig in.
Because it is Sunday, we’ve already gathered in worship and prayer and now we congregate in fellowship. Eventually the meal winds down and little boys get bored of the chit chat. They rush toward the back door like a rag of wild colts and someone yells, “Put on your shoes! Jackets!” and off they go, into the freedom of the back yard.
We are sisters and brothers but we are also adults now, with mortgages and families of our own. In the same kitchen where we sat together as kids, eating cereal everyday before school, we’re now taking turns filling missed-matched mugs with steaming coffee. I snatch one last bite of dessert on my way back to the table. My mother bounces a baby on her lap, so does my youngest sister. We settle in our seats; this is the second act.
Someone remembers a time from our childhood- a story centered around an injury (“Was that Laura or Rachel that had the seizure on the back porch?”) or a relationship lost (“Was he Canadian? What was that accent?”) and always with an effort to top the last story (“Well, I had to take my drivers test in a 15 passenger van! Including parallel parking!”) We do our best to solve the problem of the week. Talk it up one side and down the other. Not much changes but we feel better.
The best stories come from my grandmother, who remembers all and knows all. Without any haste, she takes her time to unravel the yarn. People are both first and last name, with fathers and mothers and siblings. Places are specific- homes are on avenues or in hollers, jobs are not only in offices but in towns, in states, and in the span of certain years. The actors in the story are made vibrant by a hairstyle or the color of a dress and they drawl with thick accents. The drama unfolds and it is better than a movie.
After a little while, once the food is settled, someone starts to sweep up. And another takes the liberty to slice pieces of cake on to paper plates and wrap them in Saran for the road. The brothers-in-law talk in a semi-circle outside while the boys get muddy. Sisters gather coats and diaper bags and disperse to find their people. We linger in the sunshine a little longer.
Finally, necks are hugged and baby cheeks are kissed. We say a “See ya later!” on the way out because we live in a small town and it’s the truth. God willing, we will be here again next Sunday.