It’s BACK! Maggie has a pile o’ questions about mealtimes that I’m going to answer in my own inimitable style. Took me a while to get thru these….
Let’s start at the top of the day, breakfast! Did your family have a sit down breakfast or were you more grab and go? What beverages were served at breakfast? What was your favorite (and/or least favorite) breakfast meal?
For us boys, it was mostly cereal, usually Rice Krispies, and milk. Mom would have a poached egg on toast and coffee. As I got older, milk to drink was replaced by coffee. Some mornings for me, breakfast was a Dr Pepper and a cigarette. We didn’t have Moon Pies in the Chicago area, though we did have RC Cola…
Sundays were a little different. When Dad was alive, we’d go to Mass at 12:15, and since we hadn’t eaten (there was this 3-hour fast thing before Communion) we were all hungry when we got home. Dad had usually bought a coffee cake the day before from Arfa’s Bakery, and we’d have that while he and Mom made either sausage or bacon and eggs, which we’d eat while watching ancient reruns of The Cisco Kid, followed by either baseball or WGN’s early-afternoon movie, which was either one of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies or one of the Charlie Chan movies with Warner Oland or Sidney Toler (and usually Keye Luke as #1 Son, sometimes Mantan Moreland as Birmingham, the chauffeur). After Dad died, Tex (Mom’s second husband) would make scrambled eggs with bits of ham cut up into it.
Did you snack before the mid-day meal?
Occasionally, when the opportunity presented itself.
Lunch for most children was eaten at school with the exception of weekends, holidays, or summer vacation. At school, did you buy your lunch from the cafeteria, or did you pack lunch? In high school, were you allowed to leave school grounds during the lunch period?
In grammar school, we lived a block from school, so we’d go home. There was no cafeteria. There were some kids that stayed at school and brought their lunch, and would eat in the lunchroom (a big room that had two picnic tables and a milk machine) under the watchful eye of Mrs. Johnson, a superannuated and cranky old woman. For part of the 1966-67 school year (I was in fifth grade), Jim, Kip, and I stayed at school for lunch. Jim and Kip had Batman lunch boxes, while I had a James Bond one, and Mom would pack our lunches that morning, before she left for work.
In high school, I brought a lunch most of the time. We had open campus in my junior and senior years, and I would occasionally walk home. But usually not…
For times when you had lunch at home, was it sandwiches, leftovers, or a newly prepared meal?
Since both my parents worked, they hired a woman named Lillian to come on weekdays. She’d get to our house before Mom left and go home after Mom got home. We had a couple of women before her, but she was the one I remember best. She cleaned the house and gave us lunch at noon when we came home. Our parents made it clear that she was the boss while they were gone, and whatever she said, went. I think she might have been the first Black woman any of us had met, but that didn’t matter; we all loved her and weren’t about to give her any grief. (I did once and really caught hell for it.)
Mom and Dad decided during the summer of 1966 to buy a new car, because our 1959 Chevy Biscayne was in really bad shape (I swear, there was a hole in the floor of the back seat that was almost big enough to fall through). Unfortunately, that meant they had to let Lillian go and have us eat lunch at school. They bought the new car in October, and about a month later Dad got sick, or maybe I should say the symptoms of the cancer that killed him manifested themselves. He died in January 1967. Not long after the funeral, the doorbell rang: it was Lillian. She had seen the news about Dad and came back for the rest of the school year. Mom told me she refused to take any money. (That’s the way I heard it, anyway).
Lillian was great: sometimes she’d make us French fries for lunch. Most of the time, it was the usual sandwich and/or soup. One day we were out of milk, so she gave us Dad’s Pepsi to wash lunch down with. He had a real shit fit when he got home:
“Who told you guys you could have my Pepsi for lunch?!”
“Lillian did, Dad.”
“Oh.” He wasn’t about to give her grief.
After that year, we came home for lunch and served ourselves. Mom decided she could trust us. On Mondays, we usually had sandwiches made of whatever was left of the roast from Sunday. We usually had cold cuts on hand, soup, and good old fashioned peanut better and jelly.
The evening meal is usually the most formal meal in many homes. Did your family sit down together and enjoy the evening meal or were you more of a TV dinner in front of the TV family?
We ate in front of the TV when we didn’t have company, but all of us were there, so it’s kind of a hybrid.
How did your weekend meals differ from your weekdays?
Saturday was pretty much the same as the rest of the week. Sunday was big. More to come on that.
Who did most of the cooking in your household? Did that person also do the meal planning and grocery shopping? Were you taught to cook or were you shoo’d out of the kitchen?
Mom did most of the cooking and meal planning, make a list, and I’d do the shopping. When we moved to the suburbs and Tex did a lot of the cooking, he did all that, though Mom still cooked during the week. I learned to cook from watching Mom and Tex, who didn’t mind me hanging around.
Did you have dessert served at your meals? If so, what types?
Frequently, Mom would make a cake. She’d use a cake mix and bake it in a 13×9 pan. About half the time, she’d make a frosting using Baker’s unsweetened chocolate or from brown sugar, but sometimes we’d just eat it without frosting. Either way, it was good. Sometimes Mom would have me buy a Sara Lee pound cake. We usually had cookies and sometimes ice cream, basically on a “help yourself” basis.
Who cleaned up after meals? Was it a shared responsibility between men/women, girls/boys or was it delegated based on gender?
We bussed our own dishes to the kitchen, then my brothers and I took turns loading the dishwasher. My brother Jim is particularly adept at loading a dishwasher…
How about late night snacks? Okay or discouraged?
They were okay, and we usually had them…
Were dining manners stressed in your household? No elbows on the table, no hats at the table, no belching, please, thank you, and may I be excused?
Did you have occasions where you had large family gatherings for meals? What occasions?
All the time. After we moved to Northfield, we would have a big dinner on Sunday with Grandma Holton, her sister Florence, and Mom’s Aunt Cash. Tex would drive into the city and pick up the ladies and drive them out around mid-afternoon (he called them The Lavender Hill Mob, after the movie with Alec Guinness), then he’d start cooking while Mom and the ladies (and usually one or two of us) sat and visited in the living room. Tex would make hot appetizers (not from scratch, more like pizza rolls) and cocktails.
Around 5:30 or 6:00, two of us would set the table (which usually meant adding a leaf so everyone had plenty of room). Mom had a set of dishes she got from Cash, who had gotten them from her “Auntie Floss” (called the “Hail Mary” dishes because you were supposed to say that prayer any time you used them) that we used most of the time, along with the good silver and water glasses.
Dinner was usually a roast of some kind (beef, pork, lamb, turkey) with mashed potatoes and another vegetable (actually two: turnips and something we boys would eat, like corn or green beans). Mom had a “well and tree” platter, with the large center section for meat and two side sections for potatoes and vegetables. We’d have rolls (the Poppin’ Fresh variety) and usually some sort of dessert, which occasionally was supplied by Grandma.
The ladies would stay until around 9, by which time Tex would have packaged a generous portion of leftovers for them, and would then take them home. There was always more than enough food to go around.
Holiday meals were essentially the same, but with many more people.
Did you say grace or have a blessing before meals?
Of course! Except, when Patrick (Mom and Tex’s son) was young, he preferred Grace be done in the form of a toast…
Now for the fun part. What dishes are you glad disappeared over the years? What dishes have you carried forward into your own home?
You rarely see lamb anymore at the grocery store, or maybe we just don’t look for it. Anyway, that’s gone…