“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Life was busy, with two young kids and the two of us working full time. Hockey, Gymnastics, soccer and piano. Meals were what you threw together in between the chaos. Grandma was around on a daily basis as she watched the kids while we worked. It was a mostly ideal arrangement, if you didn’t mind your kids eating McCain’s chocolate cake for breakfast. She spoilt them rotten, and the three of them were thick as thieves. She taught them how to jump in mud puddles, plant gopher bombs (you don’t want to know), use their imaginations and treat their elders with respect. But most importantly, she taught them about complete and total unconditional love. As the kids grew older and Grandma retired, it was more difficult to find the time to make sure they had their time with her. There’s was a special bond, and it needed to be nurtured.
And then it happened, a health crisis for Grandma came down in a flash. Sending us all reeling in worry and concern. We were all shaken to our core, as with most things with Gram, there was a certain amount of drama to the situation. The problem had been found in a very advanced stage, and was essentially terminal by the time it was addressed.
This acted as a wakeup call for me. Something needed to slow down, so I decided then and there that the practice of Sunday suppers was mandatory. I guessed that I would need to pick up my culinary game, if I was going to keep everyone engaged. So out came the recipe books, and variety came to life. I would make some practice meals for just the family, and then once perfected they became a Sunday dinner item.
The kids easily embraced the Sunday suppers as this was there assured time to have some time with Gram. It became our tradition to play “Rummoli”, Gram’s favorite game. And she grew cheating alliances, which added to the fun. She had a competitive edge, so liked to win. So if she was down a game, you were assured that she would goad you into more games until she came out on top.
The Sunday suppers grew to include the kid’s friends, sometimes a friend of Gram’s or family friends.
Conversations were always intriguing.
“Gram do you know what necking is?”
“Of course Dear, I do it all the time”. Said with a complete poker face, with eyes smiling up at the corners to betray her.
“And Gram, do you know what making out is?”
“Yes dear, I used to do that all the time too, but it is not as fun as it used to be as the men my age wear diapers now”.
These antics made no one happier than Gram, if she had taught them a sense of fun then she had been truly successful.
The culinary experience improved, and special favorites were developed. All of the special dishes were preceded by the label “Mama J’s” – as in Mama J’s Lasagna, or Mama J’s Enchiladas. This was my new handle, apparently as decided upon by the hordes of teens that graced our table on a Sunday evening.
It was always an unknown who would be attending. Texts from teens would come on a Sunday afternoon, saying are you having dinner tonight? Can I come? Calls and sometimes they would just drop in conveniently at four o clock, with no plans for where they needed to be for dinner. When asked if they would like to stay, the response was typically sure that would be great. But Gram and our little family were the common staple. They became brazen enough to make suggestions, such as next week can we have Mama J Enchiladas, please. I perfected the art of cooking for an army, and doggy bags were popular for poor post-secondary students.
Gram loved Sunday dinners more than anything. She would sometimes say, why don’t you take this week off dear, you work so hard. But all I needed to do was say that one of the kids would be there, and she changed her tune. “Oh phooey”, I guess I have to come then, she would say.
She wasn’t the only one that seemed to enjoy them, they grew in their diversity of who would be there on a Sunday for dinner. Gram would say well my friend is alone today, and I am wondering if she could come for dinner. This was a ploy of course, to show off her growing group of grandchildren. Nothing made her prouder than this.
Eight years she lived with this terminal illness, and then lost the battle. It took us about a month before any of us had the heart to have a Sunday dinner. But now it is the kids that are initiating them and often cooking or we work on a group dinner. They too have become pretty good cooks, or perhaps they are tired of my cooking. But regardless, we have some pretty great culinary experiences going on. I think it has become our soft place to land, if you have a bad week or just need to feel your people around you this is how it is done. Family is whomever you invite in.
We haven’t played “Rummoli” yet, but assumedly we will work up to that too. So the house is once again ringing with good food, laughter and friends on a Sunday afternoon. And more often than not, a song will come on the radio that reminds us of gram, as we steal a glance at one another and laugh at her antics. Knowing full well, she would never miss a Sunday dinner.
Love and Light