In the sweltering heat of southern summers, there was somewhat of a Sunday afternoon tradition at my grandparents’ house of putting small children down to nap on a pallet. A pallet was a homemade quilt folded over once or twice, depending on the number of grandchildren needing rest. Nearby, would be an oscillating fan, giving off a cool breeze as it turned your way. And while children napped, grownups would spend the afternoon in conversation until time for supper.
The Sunday noontime meal usually included both fried chicken and country ham. Mama and Papa had chickens and a smoke house where Papa cured hams. The table was heavy with bowls of vegetables from their garden. Desserts came in threes and you didn’t have to choose. Mama brought you a plate with some of each one; maybe two kinds of pie and a slice of cake. Once when Mama proudly brought a plate of desserts to a guest eating with us, he shook his head and said he couldn’t possibly eat all that and to please just give him one of the desserts. I can still see Mama’s face as she looked from him to the dessert plate in puzzlement. Foolish man to turn away the wares of a champion baker!
Before nap time and conversation, the table was cleared and the food carried from the dining room back to the stove. There it would be covered and put in the oven or left on top of the stove with the pot’s lids covering the “vittles,” as my grandfather called them.That wonderful repast would wait there for us to enjoy again for supper. And we didn’t always warm it up; rather, it might be spooned onto plates and eaten at room temperature. There was Sunday night church to attend, you see, so tasks were kept to a minimum. Mama’s cooking had gone on the day before or very early Sunday morning.
The memory of my grandparents’ table groaning with food and a fan cooling children on pallets are treasured memories. If I close my eyes and listen intently, I can almost hear the hum of that fan as it traveled from left to right and feel the cool breezes it provided on a hot Sunday afternoon.
As children of the 40s and 50s, we enjoyed simple pleasures and much security. We felt with our parents and grandparents in charge, no harm could come to us. We were protected from things we did and did not know. We played uncomplicated games of jack rocks and marbles, hop scotch and jump rope. We might search for four-leaf clovers or make necklaces and bracelets by typing together the long stems of the white clovers. My grandparents had an elephant ear plant that was profuse with huge leaves and long stems. Mama would break one off for each of us and we would pretend the leaves were umbrellas to fend off the sun or rain. Imagination in that day was a part of every game we played.
I think we need these memories as we age and that accounts for why we reminisce so much in our senior years. Rituals like Sunday family dinners and naps on pallets gave us uncomplicated days. Their recall brings smiles and appreciation for what we then took for granted.
Whoever thought things would change like they have? Ours was a world that made sense and gave hope for our futures. Maybe it is sheer foolishness, but somehow I believe that if we could take our children and grandchildren back to the way things were when we grew up, they would actually enjoy and want it. What do you think?
Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.
— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.