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Family-The Ties That Bind . . . and Gag! (1987)
The noisiest table in heaven
For me there will be no heaven unless it is laid out around a round oak table turned oblong by company's-coming leaves and stretched into infinity to accommodate those who have gathered joyfully, eagerly, around Kentucky tables here on earth.
At this table I will, of course, find the relatives and family friends who nourished and nurtured me as a child. My Aunt Ariel will be presiding over the world's finest jam cake while Aunt Johnny slips me a handful of red and yellow "tommytoes," still warm from the garden whose earth I can smell on her chapped but tender fingers. Charlie, my favorite uncle, will be crouched to the side, laughing and goading Daddy on to crank, crank, crank that freezer of homemade ice cream. And Ethel will be passing a big bowl of milky creamed corn, scraped from ears my Uncle Clifton has raised, and the perfect match for Jessie's white half-runner beans cooked long and slow to tender perfection.
There will be no rank strangers here-not for me or for anyone who cares to join us. As has been the custom throughout Kentucky's history, the table of my home state will always have room for anyone who is hungry and enough food to be divided up and shared until everyone there is fed.
How will you find us? Well, I'm afraid we will likely be the noisiest table in heaven.
Savory Memories (1998)
The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.
What my mother believed about cooking isthat if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.
My name is Nicholas Fain Owen. I was born in Bristol, Tennessee, and currently live in Cherokee Park, Bluff City, Tennessee. When I was a child we lived in a big old eleven-room, two-story house.
I was the runt of the litter in our family of twelve children, three of whom are younger than me. There were five boys and seven girls. . . .
We always had two tables. . . .
We had a big table with a bench on either side and a chair at the head and at the foot of the table. Dad sat at the head and Mother sat at the foot. We older children sat on each side of the benches. The younger ones, the first ones to eat at the first table, had to sit in the middle of the benches. So when we heard "Dinner's ready," or "Supper's ready," all the younger kids would start running so they could sit in the middle. If you didn't make it to the middle you had to wait for the next table.
The first ones would eat, the table was cleared and reset for the second table. This was done at every meal in our house. Poor Mother! She cooked breakfast and cleaned up and started dinner.
Nick and Marje Owen
Table Talk (1995)
Every night of my childhood
Mom cooked the steaks in her usual fashion, which was to put the meat in the broiler for about a minute, turn it, and announce that dinner was ready. . . .
Dad ate with his usual appetite. When he was done he turned to Mom and said, "What a wonderful dinner, darling. Thank you so much." And then he did what he had done every night of my childhood: kissed her hand.
Tender at the Bone (1998)
Enough for her family to eat
The family meal was always served onto our plates by my father from serving platters, and when everyone had said grace and we all concluded "Amen," my mother would say, "Oh, John, you haven't left yourself anything but the carcass" (if it was a chicken), or "the head" (if it was a fish), or "the tail" (if it was a steak), or "the gristle" (if it was a roast). She was often right. My mother always felt that there wouldn't be enough for her family to eat. Food was so rich and so abundant in our house that even the pets were all overweight.
Home Before Dark (1984)
Inevitably, my mind kept turning to the time I first made a chicken, which sounds soothing but wasn't. I was seventeen. My mother talked me through it: season, truss, roast, let rest, carve. The only thing she left out was thaw. Even today, when family members have a little eggnog and want a good laugh, someone says, "Anna's chicken!" and they all roar and roll around while I have another drink.
Living Out Loud (1988)
Most turkeys taste better the day after; my mother's tasted better the day before.
Memories of our family
We always find ways to celebrate our memories of our family and friends. Why, we still have a birthday party for Papa, even though he's been gone since 1928. We cook his favorite birthday meal, just the way he liked it: cheese and gravy, rice and sweet potatoes, ham, macaroni and cheese, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, and carrots. For dessert we'll have a birthday cake-a pound cake-and ambrosia, with oranges and fresh coconuts.
Sarah L. and A. Elizabeth Delany
Having Our Say (1993)
My father was the first man in his family to sit at a desk from Monday to Friday and use his head to support his wife and child. On Sundays he sat at the head of the table and carved roast beef.
The Hottest Night of the Century (1989)
What Sundays smell like
At every Sunday dinner, in the middle of the table, in a bowl of water, floated a single magnolia blossom, cut from the tree in our front yard. Its perfume, layered between the chicken and the kale, is still what Sundays smell like. I have only to pass a magnolia tree in bloom and am transported back to #11 Innis Court, with its wide front porch, and the glider looking across the street to the broad flat lawn of the old folks' home, the Altenheim, and long afternoons idled away in delectable anticipation of the dinner hour.
"One Writer's Beginning"
Savory Memories (1998)
You think you have a handle on God, the Universe, and the Great White Light until you go home for Thanksgiving. In an hour, you realize how far you've got to go and who is the real turkey.
Dance While You Can (1991)
My grandmother, when she served dinner, was a virtuoso hanging on the edge of her own ecstatic performance. . . . She was a little power crazed: she had us and, by God, we were going to eat. . . . The futility of saying no was supreme, and no one ever tried it. How could a son-in-law, already weakened near the point of imbecility by the once, twice, thrice charge of the barricades of pork and mashed potato, be expected to gather his feeble wit long enough to ignore the final call of his old commander when she sounded the alarm: "Pie, Fred?"
A Romantic Education (1981)
When my mother had to get dinner for 8 she'd just make enough for 16 and only serve half.
News summaries -- December 1, 1950
The resident Cute Kid
To my chagrin, my status as resident Cute Kid had automatically anointed me the designated grace-sayer, so back when I was five or six years old, several of my aunts ganged up on me and made me memorize some perfunctory little rhyming pietism on the order of "Good bread, good meat! / Good God, let's eat!" which I dutifully rattled off before every Sunday dinner. With the impending feast literally right under my nose, however, concentration was often hard to maintain, and I sometimes conferred my blessing so peremptorily that I forgot altogether what I was supposed to be saying. One Sunday, in place of my usual high-speed incantation, I heard myself solemnly intoning the Lord's Prayer; another time, the Pledge of Allegiance.
"Grandma Jess's Easy East Rolls"
Savory Memories (1998)
"That went well."
The door of the house opened and Doug's mother came out. She was plump and comfortable, with neatly set gray hair and sensible glasses. She wore an apron over a light blue print dress and she waved, as if we had traveled a great distance instead of the five miles that separated our apartment from their house.
We navigated the steps and stood there awkwardly. Doug and his mother did not kiss. "This is Ruth, Mom," said Doug, and she smiled. "Why, hello," she said, pointing into the house.
We went into the living room, which was almost filled by a pair of Barcaloungers, a large television set, and a coffee table. The corner of the coffee table ripped my stocking as I swerved around it; looking down I saw a TV Guide in a needlepoint cover. "My Aunt Winnie is the artist in the family," Doug whispered.
The kitchen was spotless and smelled like pine-scented room deodorizer. It was hard to believe that dinner would appear anytime soon. But the table in the dinette was set for four and at each place was a cottage-cheese-filled canned peach on a leaf of iceberg lettuce.
Doug's stepfather came in, asked, "Dinner ready?" and sat down. He shook my hand, said, "Hello," and was not heard from during the rest of the meal.
"Lordy," said his mother, "I've been busy as a cat on a hot tin roof today!" She looked at me and confided, "Doug tells me you're quite the cook. I can't compete, but I've made his favorite dish."
That turned out to be her famous chow mein, featuring canned bean sprouts, canned mushrooms, bouillon cubes, and molasses. With dinner we drank hot coffee.
"I like the way you wear your hair," said his mother. "It's so unusual." She gave Doug's stepfather a quick glance and added, "Did Doug tell you that we have a cousin who is Jewish?"
"No," I replied. "He hasn't mentioned that." She looked away and then asked, "Do you understand Doug's art?" I nodded. . . .
"I do admire it!" she said, dishing out seconds. "Looks like we're going to have rain next week." We managed to discuss the weather until it was time for Doug's favorite dessert, apricot-upside-down cake. It was very familiar; my kitchen shelves were lined with canned apricots.
We were out the door by seven. "That went well," Doug said as we left. "My mother likes you."
"How could you tell?" I asked.
"Right now she is saying to my stepfather, 'She seemed like a nice girl.' And he is saying, 'Look who's going to be on Johnny Carson tonight! Art Carney!'"
"What would she have done if she didn't like me?" I persisted.
"Nothing different," he admitted. "But I'd know."