Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Afternoons at Grandma's

I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana until we moved to Arkansas when I was ten. I remember two things the most from those years: the humidity and going to my Mammaw's. As a kid, I always sensed tremendous tension between the parental units and my grandparents, but had no clue as to the problem. I was of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I wanted to go, be free of my mother's craziness, to be in a place that smelled of yeast rolls and sugar cookies. On the other hand, my grandmother's silences, hard work, and distance from emotion created a difficult, unnerving environment. I was pretty sure she loved me, but I never seemed to live up her exacting standards. Poppaw was easy. He just loved me. The warm crinkles of his eyes stays with me to this day. As a teen, Mammaw's neighbor, of no relation but called Mammaw Haynes, explained that sometimes love is doing. Rhubarb pie, blackberry jelly, and strawberry jam meant love. Hmmm... I'm a compulsive over eater. Go figure.

These stones used to literally just be lay
out in the fields. Folks gathered them for
fences and the outside of houses.
We were expected for Sunday dinner every week. My grandfather bought the one room house when he married Mammaw. Year by year he added rooms, using Indiana limestone on the outside. Eventually my Mammaw had a three bedroom, two bathroom home with a formal dining room where the family gathered on Sundays. Because I often spilled jelly on the Sunday tablecloth, I had waxed paper under my plate. It was convenient to draw on with the blunt end of my fork while dinner plates were removed and rinsed, and desert was brought to the table.

A year or so before we moved, things changed. In later years I heard stories of my grandmother's meddling and intrusiveness. I'll never really know how much was Daddy's resistance to anyone having a say over my mother and me. Or how much was my mother's mental illness. Or how much was religion, when daddy took mother and me from the family Methodist church where I sat between my parents or grandparents on Sundays, to the austerity of the Church of Christ. I certainly enjoyed Mammaw's yeast rolls over the cafeteria food and conversation of those church people on Sunday afternoon. Indeed, that year or two before we moved to Arkansas were the only years I remember my parents being social. My mother went to the hospital once or twice for her "nervous stomach" but she was relatively stable and we as a family seemed normal to the outside world.

When we moved to Arkansas I mourned yeast rolls and rhubarb pie. I didn't miss the coldness and the undertones of the house. But I dreaded, when I went back two weeks in the summer, returning to Arkansas where things had gotten really crazy. I tried, desperately, to tell my grandparents how wrong things were. I gave up when I was instructed to stop talking bad about my mother. Now I suspect that my grandparents couldn't tolerate their own powerlessness.

Put those thoughts on back the burner.

For the last two Sundays, Cameron and I have been going to church and then taking food to her parents since her father broke his shoulder. I am a convenience freak, and would not normally get up early on a Sunday morning to prepare a casserole before church to carry it to a family member. Hell, I wouldn't normally have a family member to carry a casserole dish to. Let's be honest, the parental units are 700 miles away, as is the youngest son. The eldest son doesn't speak to me. So Cameron's family is the nearest family I have.

Put that on the back burner.

Last night Cameron and I attended dinner and the theatre as guest of his brother and sister-in-law. Every year we pick the show, and as a Christmas present they take us out. Last night we saw Foxfire, which is about family and one's land, and roots. It struck deeply for me. I have no roots. They were torn from the ground and shaken when I was ten, poisoned by mental illness and over thirty moves in my lifetime. My family is distant, divided, or deceased. Yet there I sat with my partner and adopted family, accept and loved.

Put it all together and stir the pot.

Family Reunion
Cameron is in the shorts, I'm in the yellow shirt
On our way home this evening, I realized how much I miss what might have, should have, or imperfectly was. Aunts, uncles and cousins that gathered at those Sunday dinners. Forth-of-July family reunions and wedding anniversaries. Cameron's family has graciously given those gifts back to me. Last summer we gathered -- check out the picture. Huge family gathering and the only person not entirely aware of our "gayness" was Cameron's dad, who chooses not to acknowledge it. Cam and I are conspicuously together on the left side.

So going to church today, taking the in-laws food, was a delightful echo of years gone by. The should have, could have, would have of the past coalesced into something imperfect but beautiful, treasured and delightful. I actually spent the week planning the menu: veggie pie, slow cooked chicken, Saltine Toffee and Crispy Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies.

I'm feeling daring. I think next week will be Sunday Sausage, Apple, and Cheese Strata and I want to try NILLA Tiramisu Cookie Balls.


  1. I look forward to next week with great anticipation, with that menu! LOL! Seriously, family dinners and gatherings were a staple of my life and childhood, without the tensions and stress that you unfortunately have experienced. (coming Out years later as Gay and Trans has made up for that since, I have to say!) But I too have memories of Sunday dinners and Fourth of July's and Christmases...Oh heaven, Christmas!!! It is a great joy to me that I have this still to share with you...that my family, and my parents live still for you to experience at the end of their lives - they are in their 80's - a taste of the joys that I remember. I love you and I am so glad to experience these things with you. My brother and his wife are of course, a treasure beyond belief in their love and acceptance of us! We are indeed blessed. What you need to realize is that you - YOU - are a blessing to us, with your love and your cooking and your enthusiasm. By your gifts of love and grace and cooking (which you have such a gift and talent for!) you bring to these wonderful moments a joy and love that would not be there if you were not there! Thank you! I love you!

  2. With a post like that, beloved, the world can certainly see why I fell in love with you. It's lovely to be appreciated. Thank you.