Do you say supper or dinner? Growing up, my father ate a noon-time meal called “dinner” and later in the day, “supper.” Sometimes I eat lunch and dinner, other times lunch and supper, sometimes dinner and supper, depending on my whim, or whom I’m talking with. When I would succumb, subconsciously, to the vernacular I was exposed to, and refer to the evening meal as dinner, my father would be confused. If I said, “We’re going to dinner tonight,” he would say, “Didn’t you already eat?”
As a kid, we rarely ate a traditional supper. Everyone, my parents and brothers and I, ate when we got in from working on the farm, at different times, and Daddy always ate in front of the TV, watching the news and the weather. He was a farmer. It was a known, family, household fact that everyone needed to become silent during the TV weather report, under an unspoken threat of death otherwise. The forecast was second only to the Gospel in importance. Shut up and turn it up.
People seem to operate under the stereotype that a farm wife, like my mother was, is supposed to be a wonderful cook. They are supposed to raise a huge garden and can everything they grow. They are supposed to cook biscuits from scratch on the daily. Farm wives are supposed to cook huge breakfasts every morning, with home grown bacon and farm raised eggs. It’s expected to have homemade cake and cookies and pies and do all of these to the nines.
Such was not the case in our home. I never saw my mother bake. We ate from paper plates or straight from the plastic TV dinner tray. Frozen lasagna. Supper was often fried potatoes and cornbread. Sometimes pinto beans. Chicken, but it was Tyson frozen planks. Often times, Armor canned chili or frozen pizza. Breakfast was corn flakes, without sugar added. And we were fine.
As a teenager, I spent a tremendous amount of time at my friend Tanya’s house. I was exposed there to cooking by her mother, Mary Mae, that I had never enjoyed at home. Mary Mae always made me feel at home, and make myself at home I did. Every meal there, every Sunday evening, for years, before she would take me to church, was better than Thanksgiving at my own home. I was made to feel like family.
Her family actually sat down at the table and ate together. On real plates! It felt so homey and nice, and I relished every minute. This was their normal, I think, but to me it was so special. It felt like something exceptional that I had theretofore not been privy to. I wanted that normal to be my own.
I do not regret any part of my childhood. I won the parent lottery. I look around and know that I had two parents who were both intelligent, hard-working, and God-fearing. We were whipped, yes, with a belt when we needed it, but it made us better people. We were not spoiled or given much in the way of clothes or toys, or taken many places. We never participated in scouts or sports or dance. Work was all there was. But I wouldn’t trade a minute, because it all made us who we are.
What is supper like at your house? Or is it “dinner” there? Do you eat together? Do you often get take-out or is it always home cooked? My own children’s supper is not unlike mine as a child because I am often working late, and my boys often fix the evening meal, just like I did as a kid. The difference is that they are more prone to actually cook than I was.
There is still frozen pizza, sometimes now Bagel Bites, and I’m ashamed to say it, but it is still, like it was for me and mine then, the special occasion when my boys and I sit down to eat together at the table. I sometimes lament this fact, but it is what it is. Like my own childhood, I know that my boys know they are loved. Homemade food is a special bonus, like the time spent and conversation at the table — I wish there was more of it — but frozen pizza is all right, too.