It used to be that on an occasional Sunday my brother, my boyfriend, all three of our grown kids, and the entire passel of grandkids would make the hundred-mile trip to visit my folks in my hometown, a rural community in southern Illinois that was, as I have discovered just lately, extremely charming. And each and every time we went there, my mom pulled out all the stops.
It seemed effortless. She made it seem effortless, this preparation, for feeding ten people instead of two. I cannot remember ever having a meal where every dish was not perfectly delicious, and the desserts constantly decadent! We would get about fifteen miles from there and my stomach would begin to growl and my mouth water in anticipation of Sunday dinner.
By the time we arrived, the food was already being put on the table. My mom would be stirring and tasting as she prepared the bowls of steaming green beans, the plates of sliced homegrown tomatoes, and the meat, usually chicken or roast beef. Dad would be taking directions from her without complaint, stirring and seasoning the potatoes he was mashing with the old white Mixmaster that had been in use as long as I could remember.
Mom never complained about cooking those dinners, and as a matter of fact, about a month before she passed away from cancer, she had one last big meal on a Sunday that only my brother and I went to, and used that opportunity to clue us in that she was not feeling well.
We were alarmed as we had never heard her complain, and we convinced her to seek medical attention the next day, which she did. The next weekend, she asked me to come down and take her to the hospital the following day for a colonoscopy, and when I told her to please let me just get some sandwiches at a local deli for our Sunday meal, she did not argue. I knew then that things were probably not good.
But the whole reason for this little narrative is not to mourn, it is to celebrate Mom’s life and her talent and her dedication to her family, and to thank her for teaching me to take over as matriarch even though I never felt particularly ready for that role.
Today I am preparing a large meal for my own family, carrying on the tradition of the weekend family dinners, and I can tell you it is not effortless. Why was it that my mom would use two cans of green beans and feed several of us and when I make two cans of green beans, they are gone before everyone gets a serving? Why is it I cook a huge-looking roast and then find my kids fighting over the last piece when Mom’s roast seemed to feed a dozen people? And why is it that I am starved for some rich, decadent dessert and can only manage to throw a package of Oreo cookies on a platter? I wonder if they seem more exotic when I twist them apart and smear Nutella on the wafer-only side and slap them back together and serve them in a bowl of ice cream?
The family will be the harshest critics, and we’ll see how it goes. I only hope that my kids and grandkids will post a blog someday and talk about the weekend family get-togethers at Gramma’s house with even half the admiration I feel as I am posting about my mom’s and dad’s Sunday dinners.