Tuesday, September 29, 2015


In that moment of semi-consciousness just after waking this morning, I was a boy again:  happy, carefree, unburdened by the world, perfectly content.

I had just come from late summer Sunday Lunch at my grandparents' farm in Georgia.  It was the "8th" Sunday, so it was the turn of my father, mother, brother and me to join Papa and Granna at the table on the screened back porch (8 children, 8 families, 8 cycles of Sunday Lunch). For my little brother and me, that meant sharing a hand-hewn wooden bench whose height was more suited to adults, placed against the wall.  When the victuals came (and came and came...) the bench height really didn't amount to much of an obstacle.  The sultry, late-summer breeze wafted in bearing the sweet, dank smells of the farm.  That same breeze would later stir the gauzy "sheers" over the open parlor windows where we retired after our meal.

If there were no other indication, you knew it was Sunday by the way my grandparents were dressed.  During the week, Papa always wore loose-fitting denim "overalls" and a long-sleeved work shirt, topped with a well-worn straw hat.  Granna's weekday attire was a simple cotton jumper dress, loose-fitting not because she preferred it that way but because it was a legacy from her days of heartiness.  On Sundays, Papa wore his "school attire":  a dress shirt and pants, a dress belt, Sunday shoes and socks and a dress hat.  Granna would don a newer, fancier version of her cotton shift, usually topped by a "dressy" sweater to ward off the perennial cold (even in the middle of Georgia summer)!  My grandparents even smelled differently on Sundays.

Papa poured the sweet tea (Granna's tea was so sweet that it was often used to rouse livestock that had "gotten down") while Granna loaded the table with the bounty of their 100 acre farm:  fried chicken (yard bird in my younger years, "tenders" later on), salt-cured ham, mashed potatoes (gravy was for breakfast!), green beans, creamed sweet corn (creamed in an ancient, crusty cast-iron skillet with plenty of bacon fat), some variety of pea, fried okra, fresh tomatoes (flavorful), fresh cantaloupe (sugar sweet), often Granna's home-made ambrosia, a pone of fresh cornbread made from corn which which was grown on the farm and stone-ground at a local mill and any "cat-head" biscuits left from breakfast.  The poor table creaked and groaned under its burden, all of which had been grown and prepared literally FEET away from it.

The smells!  The flavors!  The feeling!  The smells!  It's not even 7am and I can smell, taste and feel the satisfaction of that meal.  Above and beyond the food and drink was the feeling of being in that place, at that time, with those people.  I didn't learn the word lagniappe until much later in life but that's what Sunday Lunch at the farm was:  above and beyond any expectation.  And on the subject of lagniappe...

Of course, dessert was always one of Granna's freshly baked pies or cakes.  Her pies had the most unique crust.  It was a paper-thin creation of flour and lard, Granna's shortening of choice (she used it in everything), into which she cast the filling of the season.  My favorite, and my dad's, was sweet potato, onto which she dusted freshly grated coconut which toasted as the pie baked.  The smell!  The flavor!  The feeling!  Did I mention the smell?!

After lunch, Papa would partake of his sole vice, a cigarette.  Papa didn't "smoke".  He "savored".

The "men" retired to the parlor while the "ladies" cleared and cleaned.  On the way through the kitchen, Papa stopped at "his drawer" and withdrew a solitary cigarette, KOOL, I think.  Regardless of the season, he drew his chair close to the parlor fireplace into which he blew the wafting effluent from his smoke, so as not to unduly trouble his guests.  I grew up in an era of smokers.  I've witnessed people smoking in all venues and under all conditions.  I've never seen anyone enjoy a cigarette more than Papa.  He would hold it away from his face and regard it as though anticipating its flavor.  He held it oddly between his thumb and forefinger as he placed it delicately between his lips and lit.  The first draw must have been Nirvana from the look on his face.  Held for just a moment longer than any subsequent puff, the residual smoke was eventually exhaled (think yoga exhalation) into the waiting mouth of the chimney.  Long draws, long exhalations, Papa had a look of utter satisfaction on his face.  If ever I had a yen to smoke (I didn't), it was because of the visions of my Papa and the joy he derived from a solitary cigarette.

The ladies joined us, their tasks accomplished, and we discussed the topics of the day:  my aunt and uncle's missionary life in Israel, whether or not Papa intended to teach another year (he taught and was an administrator in the county school system for 48 years), the status of each of my father's other siblings and their families, and whose turn it was for lunch next week (always Uncle Charles as lunches were held in descending, seniority order and Aunt Shelby's family was in Israel).

As we took our leave, with whatever abundant produce the farm was to send home with us that week, we were sent away with warm wishes for a quick return, comforted by the knowledge that only 8 weeks later, it would all be repeated.  (Now, I'm wondering.  Did P&G take a week "off" every cycle while Aunt Shelby and family were in Israel?  Hmmmm.)

All that's left of Sunday Lunches with Papa and Granna is a memory.  The smells!  The flavors!  The feeling!

The smells!

The feeling I had as I woke this morning was positively Biblical.


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