A guest post by none other than my own mom!
The smells – that’s what brings me back to the good old days of Sunday dinners at my grandma’s house – the smell of her china cabinet when opened to set the table, the smell of all of her culinary delights bubbling on the stove top and simmering in the oven, and even the very smell of her. To me the sense of smell is the most intense nostalgic of all. (I saved my mother’s purse after she died and still open it and take a sniff from time to time.) My sister has Grandma’s china cabinet and when I open the old doors, I still smell dinner at grandma’s house.
Dinner wasn’t about eating; it was about celebrating family time. Each Sunday we were at my grandma’s house rain or shine. My Aunt Rosemarie and Uncle Otto lived upstairs in my grandma’s two-flat. Another aunt and uncle and their two children took the drive each Sunday to join in the fun. A third aunt and uncle lived in what we considered the “boonies” and therefore seldom took part in the Sunday ritual.
I can’t honestly remember what we ate on most of these occasions. It really wasn’t about the food even though my grandma’s culinary skills, especially German cuisine, were met with oohs and ahhs, and no one to this day can duplicate some of her favorite dishes. She didn’t own a cookbook or possess even a written recipe. It was all in her head and prepared with a dash of this and a pinch of that and much taste testing on her part. .
We always ate in the dining room using the good china partly because the kitchen table wasn’t big enough, but mostly because each and every Sunday was a holiday worthy of the best in everything. Her dining room, good china, and best meals weren’t saved for Christmas and Easter.
Prayers started and ended each meal, but lively conversation and even some heated debates, usually provoked by my Uncle Otto, provided entertainment for all
After the eating part of the day was completed, the women and kids cleaned up while they gossiped and joked. The men and one rogue aunt went upstairs and played cards, usually Pinochle. I loved to sit behind my dad and watch and try to figure it all out.
When I got bored with that, I find myself listening to stories about Germany where my grandma worked for a duchess, or hear her adventures with the mouse in her house. She complained about it, but there was a twinkle in her eye, and I almost think she began to think of it as a pet. She would tell us how she was almost asleep when that mouse ran right across her bed.
If it was cold, I would cuddle up next to her space heater. After my back got all hot, tingly, and itchy, I’d cuddle up next to her for a back scratch. I was never denied this pleasure.
My playmate, other than Uncle Otto’s spotted dog, was my pony-tailed cousin, Debbie. She was two years younger than I and we became good friends and had fun together – whether we were dressing up in Grandma’s shawls, playing house, or styling each other’s hair. Mine was always short, and I envied her long, long locks. There were those memorable occasions when we both spent the night there and got to venture into the attic or take a train with Grandma to the cemetery.
Family in my childhood extended far beyond the nuclear one. Grandma and all my aunts and uncles and cousins were a big part of my life, and we all looked forward to our Sundays together. In fact, I really didn’t know what Sunday was without dinner at grandma’s.