#TBTMemory 57: Family Meal Rituals

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?

Oh, yeah…

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…

34 thoughts on “#TBTMemory 57: Family Meal Rituals

  1. Loved reading what you did for meals and Lilluam sounds like a true gem. Do you gave a picture of her somewhere? You could do a post about this lady.
    We said gracevat dinner and my Kom always made sure Sunday was special with candles on the table and our own cloth cerviettes. ( not sure how to spell that word). Mom usually made meat & potatoes because that was my dad’s favourite. I make my meals the way my mom taught me and she taught me at an early age. To this day I can’t stand shake & bake because we ate that a lot! Breakfast was together and I had my pick of great cereal like Count Chocula. The TV was in the corner of the living room right beside the dining room so it was always on to watch the news followed by tic, tac, Dough with Wink Martindale followed by the Muppet Show, my dad’s favourite. Since we owned a sawmill, lunch was something I had to prepare for my dad and my brother and have it ready when they came in as they only had a 1/2hour lunch. Sometimes, I didn’t get my brother’s eggs just right and he would get upset. My parents sided with him…ughh. my mom always made my lunch and, when I wad young I gad a Gilligan’s Island lunch box and, later, a Happy Day’s one. Afterward I just carried it in a paper bag.


    1. Unfortuntely, no pictures of Lillian. She was a great lady; I enjoyed talking to her and we had a few laughs together. She was with us the day Kennedy was assassinated, and I remember she was very upset by it.

      I hope you told your brother to make his own damn eggs…


  2. Loved the stories, John. I don’t remember Lillian, though I’m sure I must have met her at some point. You should collect all of these memory blogs and write a book.


    1. That actually sounds like The Ladykillers, with Sir Alec, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom. They posed as a string quartet and rented a room at Mrs. Wilberforce’s (Mrs. Lopsided) boarding house while they plotted an armored car heist. That was a tremendous movie. I think we used to have it on VHS…. The Lavender Hill Mob was Guinness and Stanley Holloway, who were stealing gold bars and turning them into miniature Eiffel Towers. Both hilarious… y’all made some great films in the ’50’s and ’60’s!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oops, yes of course it is the Ladykillers I’m thinking of – I was ill a lot as a child and all those old black and white movies used to play on TV in the mornings, so I saw quite a lot of them, and still love watching them today (even when I get their names muddles up!) 🙂


        1. Our PBS station in Chicago used to run a lot of British black and white films from the ’40’s and ’50’s, including several of the “St. Trinian’s” movies and a lot of the early Peter Sellers movies like “Tight Little Island” and “Battle of the Sexes,” and the Margaret Rutherford “Miss Marple” movies. Those were the days when TV stations had their own movie libraries and made local decisions on what movies showed when. I miss that….

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Oh, yeah, old Marge had to be the worst casting decision ever made, and what’s worse, I think they knew that and did it anyway. Mary and I think Joan Hickson was the perfect Miss Marple, and that David Suchet was the perfect Hercule Poirot.

              Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes John I do too everyone is so busy these days they don’t always sit-down together. Dad always said the family that eats together stays together. As a child we did, when married I carried it on, and luckily our youngest son and his family do too. 💜

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We’ve always been really informal and have used our “good” dishes maybe four times in the 45 years we’ve been married. I think if we had kids we would be a little better about it. Mom had a real knack for it.


  3. What a wonderful post, John. I guess I was on overload coming up with questions this week — sorry about that. I guess a lot of kids that lived close to our school walked home for lunch. We were a 30 minute bus ride away, so that wasn’t an option for us. We never had a dishwasher either. Well, except for me and my sisters. I would not live without one now if I could possibly avoid it. Thanks for responding to my meandering questions this week. Always a pleasure. (I dropped a link to your post in the comments of my post so others could read it as well.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for joining in John. I’m unfamiliar with a “hail Mary” plate or dish. You had a pretty awesome mealtime, from y point of view. Your memory is very clear too. 🙂


    1. It was a set of china that had belonged to “Auntie Floss,” who I never met; she was my great-aunt Cash’s aunt who had passed away, and Cash inherited the dishes. She passed them on to Mom, telling her, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that whenever she used them she was to “say a Hail Mary (a Catholic prayer in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus) for Auntie Floss.”

      Sunday dinners were awesome because of the old ladies, who were pretty awesome themselves. Mom was very close to them and watched out for them: she’d send food home with them to make sure they’d eat during the week. Mom seriously considered moving to California after Dad died, but didn’t want to leave them behind and wanted us to have a relationship with them, too. Mom could be hard to get along with sometimes, but she took care of her own.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. I never bothered to even think about why those plates were called the “Hail Mary.” Your memory is unbelievable John.

    Obviously, I was around later than you. My experience was that all the special plates were simply known as “The Hail Mary” and “the Lenox” (which I believe was mom and your dad’s wedding China). It was always a surprise to know which we’d use on any given holiday.

    And yes…don’t get in Jim’s way when he’s loading a dishwasher. He’s the master.

    Thank you for these memories. Mom is loving every word I’m sure.


    1. Thanks, Pat. I’m not sure my memory is that good, but it’s close enough.

      The Lenox china was indeed the china Mom got when she married Dad. That went with Kip to San Francisco. Jim got the Hail Mary dishes. Lord knows, he put them in the dishwasher enough…


You can use Markdown in your comments. Thanks for your comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s