Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dressing For Dinner

And I mean Sunday dinner…dinner being the operative word for the daytime meal in the South—after the Handlin’. Supper would be the meal one would partake when the sun went down.

If I could choose one photograph to support my point that there was a time when style, deportment, and for lack of a better word, class; were independent of education, income and background, it would be this one. Even the folks more casually dressed are well put together. And dig the wallpaper.

Thanksgiving dinner? Christmas dinner? Nope. This was just a typical Sunday when my mother and her sibs could congregate a representative number of the clan—post church. My sister, LFG and I drove by this house the other week when I was recently home in S.C. It’s my aunt Inez’s old house. My mom is the baby of ten and aunt Inez was the oldest. She was the matriarch of our clan and rightfully so. A nurturer and helper…a Public Health Nurse by training…loved by all who knew her. Maybe she’s taking this photo because unfortunately she’s not in it. And neither am I.
This photo predates my birth and on the right flank, you see some of my older first cousins…the ones who were crazy for all of the music coming from the British Invasion as well as the regional R&B stuff in the South. And certainly…all the riffs rolling out of Motown and Philly. This right flank assemblage is the reason I know that music so well.

Another thing hit me the other day when I was drinking this picture. Vietnam devoured all of these boys. Luckily they all came back physically intact. One cousin in the photograph made a career out of the Navy…he went on to be a nuclear sub guy and is eerily—uber mensaniacally smart. Scary I say. On the other end of the spectrum, one cousin at the table never recovered from what he saw and did on a Swiftboat.

But let’s talk clothes. This was a time when everyone, regardless of their station in life, followed a code that while not necessarily a detailed road map, was a deportment guide—a carriage-compass I suppose.
This is my dad. I only remember him in two guises. Either a shirt and tie or pajamas. I’ve been intent on doing a story about this man but I lose my resolve every time I sit down to it. He was a clothes fanatic and I’m not surprised that he is sporting a bow tie to Sunday dinner.
My uncles…Jim and Jake. My uncle Jim owned a grocery store and I loved going there when I was a kid. I would hand him a dollar in purchase of a handful of candy and he would hit every button on the cash register in a high drama display…then give me three bucks in change. He and my aunt Kat had a daughter and I was kind of the son my uncle Jim never had. Uncle Jake hosted some memorable fireworks boondoggles during my childhood Christmases…we coulda blown up half of South Carolina with what he hauled in for us to ignite. Jake was a WWII veteran…one of the Greatest Generation. Hell, all of my aunts and uncles were/are great.
Three of the seven sisters. My aunt Kathleen (Kat) my mom and my aunt Selma. My aunt Kat is eighty four and lives a mile from my mom. She outlived Uncle Jim and two other husbands. Damn. Aunt Selma is eighty seven and lives ten miles from my mom…all these women are strong but my aunt Selma has an extra level of resolve. She’s travelled the world…often times alone.
My “Big Fat Granddaddy”…not really big and fat but my other grandfather was skinny so that’s how I sorted them out. I own the watch he’s checking. Suspenders? Never did I see him without braces. And that’s Mr. Nuclear Sub Savant leaning in. His nickname is C.H. … Constance is his first name and I forget what the “H” stands for. We can hang a name on you down South. My first name is a zinger. And the mischievous fella to his left is my cousin Ricky who went through a zillion women and four livers at Chapel Hill. There is a history of drink in my family. But there’s also a history of people living forever.

Thanksgiving dinners at home rarely see this level of sartorial thoughtfulness and certainly, Sunday dinners tilt more towards sweatshirts and baseball hats it seems. Butcept my aunt Inez would have none of that.



James said...

Can you explain how this family life style has mutated into what you observed while on vacation with that adorable daughter ( he said objectively!). I'm sure your childhood wasn't perfect, but can you begin to imagine the reaction if the f word was cut lose at that table! You'd never find out because no one would dream to use it. This post and the last one have got me fired up again, and you know at my age that ain't good.Ah well it isn't going to change back, but God helps us if it continues to get worse.

Reggie Darling said...

ADG: This photo could be the basis of a Norman Rockwell painting. And I mean that as high praise, as I think he was a genius at capturing the essence of the American experience in the years leading up to when this picture was snapped. Thanks for sharing it. And yes, I'm wistful for the days when people dressed up for special dinners and when visiting places that deserve respect. This morning at the church I attend more than one adult man was wearing shorts, and at least several adults were wearing Crocs. I don't expect women to wear skirts to church anymore, but call me a stick in the mud because I think it's inappropriate for women to wear tank tops in church. I know it's hot, but c'mon! -- Reggie

Anonymous said...

The picture itself may be the answer to what is now missing.........a large group of family members who I will wager would not hestiate to put you back on the straight and narrow. I sure do miss Sunday dinner and "Granny's"
Most do not remove the baseball cap at the table any longer.

Scott said...

That's a good'un, ADG. Note the adult women aren't sitting at the table. They are ensuring the men and young'uns get fed. Different times then, but lots of female pride in performing their role very well.

It disappoints my mother to no end that we only do the Sunday Dinner thing maybe one Sunday out of five instead of every week. We're just too busy, which is too dang bad.

BTW, whatever happened to Christmas fireworks?


Main Line Sportsman said...

Sir, These pictures and this post....just a home run on several levels.

Toad said...

A bit further north in Mayberry the chiluns had their own card table, near enuf to slap at but not so close as to bother decent folks.

I remember those days like yesterday, Thanks for indulging us,

LPC said...

I just got back from a vacation where we changed out of bathing suits into shorts for dinner. I'm going to say that counted, since pleases and thank yous and praise for the cooks made a fabulous showing. Children did not say the f-word, and no grownup said it either, at least not in front of said children.

Let the wild rumpus begin.

Anonymous said...

And may I attest that the same standards and extended-family-values even held in NYC and environs during this same period...I sought refuge from dramatic changes by going to college down South as all things began to slowly go "blooey" in the name of freedom by mid-60's...things still held fast below the Mason-Dixon until early 70's when news, information & social trends still seemed play catch-up a little more slowly...Anonymous in NY

TWJ said...

ADG, Love, love, love this. My family Sunday Dinner's sound like Toad's comment. You were big time with you got to sit at the "Big Table". As for the aunt's taking care of the men, priceless. This is probably why my brother and I are so spoiled now. All that attention by mom and the aunts messed us up forever. Or at least that is what my wife tells me.

ADG said...

TWJ...Indeed. By the time I was born, there were so many first cousins that two or three card tables were in place...and I was at one of them. The first time LFG's mother met my mom, and witnessed my mom getting me a glass of tea, she was appalled.

Anon/NY...yep, some regions devolve at different rates than others but I'd say we are 100% devolved now...coast to damn coast.

LPC...welcome back and YES, it does count. Behavior more than the swathing/shodding I say.

Toad...yep. See my card table comment above. I'd give 250 bucks to smile train to see a picture of you at that age. Card table age.

MainLiner...thanks. And sorry about your fighter the other night.

Scott...indeed and YES, the fireworks were amazing...but is it because we were little? I don't think so because I can't find the same caliber of goods anymore. And the local cops gave us a big pass when shooting them during the holidays.

Anonymous/RTS...indeed, all of my mother's sibs would with great latitude given, smack any and all of us. And amazingly, all of us turned out to be self sufficient adults. Butcept me. are spot on. LFG and I want to Saturday evening church and the casualness was ever so magnified. I know it's July, I know it's 95 degrees and I know that God doesn't care what we wear. But I do. Re: Norman Rockwell...I have a friend who grew up in western Mass. His father, aunts and uncles are some of the children subjects in Rockwell's paintings.

James...I right there with you on the "worked up" front. If I have to call out someone on the street a few more times for using the "f-bomb" in front of LFG, I'm sure there's gonna be a scuffle.

Summer is a Verb said...

UNfortunately, dressing for dinz round these parts means losing the workout duds for jammmies...XXOO

ADG said...

AllieVonWorkout...I'm wrapping this in love but...realize it's exactly that very hedonistic behavior that creates the need for the Butt Police.

Anonymous said...

Would anyone have thought that Sunday dinner would become a memory instead of a regular weekly event? Of course I am so outdated that at 50 I still say "yes sir/mam"

cdclaycomb said...

The last church service I attended the minister was wearing Crocs. It was a funeral. I am not kidding.

This post really made me smile with the memories of Sunday Dinner.

There were between 8 and 30 people at my Nana's table every Sunday of my childhood. I didn't get to sit at the big table until I was engaged to be married. Those spots were highly coveted and I was in charge of serving the sweet tea from the age of 7. Nana always did make sure I got at least one of the nuggets from the fried chicken back. It's still my favorite morsel of chicken.

In The Littoral said...

I love this picture and have memories of meals like that too. Going to my Uncle's for Sunday dinner or supper was a lot like that picture. Sometimes the kids ate in the kitchen instead of the dinning room table. Probably because of a fear for the carpet. But the door to the kitchen was left open so our behavior could be monitored.

As to the devolving of culture:

My twenty year old nephew came to the Thanksgiving table with a baseball cap on his head and to my chagrin, his parents (my sister and brother in-law) said nothing. He was seated next to me and I quietly leaned over and wispered in his ear "a gentleman does not wear a hat to the table, or in the house for that matter." He removed the hat at once and left it off for the rest of the visit. A little gentle coaxing was all it took. I believe it is the laziness of the parents as much, if not more, than outside cultural influences. The teaching of manners and proper behavior was often a bone of contention between my ex and I.

Now as to the f-bomb. I am so tired of hearing it, but fear I am becoming desensitized to it too. I remember getting into trouble as a high school senior when I used the word "sucks" in front of my parents. Believe me when I tell you that a strong impression was made that I was not to use such language, period.

If you need backup in the scuffle, give me a shout.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous - Seven years ago (I remember because the Gunny was overseas) I temp'd as a receptionist and the big boss heard me answer the phone and put someone on hold and actually stopped to tell me how nice it was to have someone answering phones who used the word 'sir'. Sad comment on society that plane ol' good manners, something that was so common when I was a kid, is now cause for a compliment.

ilovelimegreen said...

The memories I have of dressing for dinner not just on Sunday but almost every day - my mother - my father and me! While watching the Brady Brunch and Mr. Brady (Robert Reed?) was not wearing a tie for dinner and I asked why, my father's answer to my comment was "They live in California" and that was a satisfactory answer for a five-year old! I also almost always remember my father in a tie or a bathrobe, I suppose until I was 10. I actually felt embarrassed around the age of 9 or so when he picked me up from school - not wearing a tie! (It was while our house was being repainted.)

Anonymous said...

I remember my grandpa in monogrammed shirts and braces. He was a "big" gentleman. Enjoyed his biscuits and gravy, he did. He was a doctor. My grandmother referred to him as "The Doctor". Never "Your grandfather needs his newspaper". It was "The Doctor needs his newspaper now. Would you be so kind as to bring it to him while I finish dressing?" I never saw The Doctor in anything but a dress shirt and braces and a bow tie. He showed me how to tie one properly. His shirts were monogrammed above his breast pocket. He had them specially made as he had all of his clothing made because of his size and he was very particular about the drape of his suits and a proper fit of a collar. I remember he always carried a linen handkerchief with his initials, as well. My grandfather was the only doctor in Garfield county back in the day. He also owned the pharmacy/soda shop in town. He compounded his own drugs for his patients. When my father was a child he worked in the soda shop. Everyone called him "Little Doc". When he grew up he became a doctor, too. His name was David Samuel but went by "D.S". My father had tailor made morning dress and a beaver top hat when he was in college and this was during the depression. He wore $40 wing tips and drove a Stutz Bearcat. Later he enjoyed British sports cars and I can still see him in an old picture taken at a sports car rally wearing a tweed Norfolk jacket and a deer stalker. I never thought much about men's clothing until I started reading your blog. I guess the men in my family had a tradition of style that I was only peripherally aware of. I do remember that as a girl, my mother and I NEVER went into The City without hats and gloves. I miss Sunday dinners. My family is too dysfunctional to get together like that every week. My widow friend whose family was from Tennessee, still has her small family over on Sundays. She tells me every week what she is planning to make. So many courses and always a variety of desserts. I think it is a lovely ritual. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Very nice story. Lucky to have such a nice family.

Kathie Truitt said...

Thank you for the story and great pictures to go along with it. The bit about all your cousins making it back from VN was touching. I recently interviewed a VN vet for research on a new book. First of all it was near impossible to find anyone that would talk, and when I did he told me things that I swear I'd take to my grave. How many unsung heroes do we have among us?

DocP said...

As a single woman without family nearby, I try to host a Sunday dinner at least once a month. The failure to RSVP, to show up after an affirmative RSVP and general casualness of my guests often frustrates me.

To Anonymous 11:43 AM: those were certainly more formal times. On the other hand, I and at least some of my colleagues dress with the idea that we may be called out to see a patient at any time.

Preppy 101 said...

In my day, which was before your day, failure to show up at the table ON TIME and dressed appropriately would've gotten you slapped into next week.

Remember asking to be excused from the table? Good grief. We're just a bunch of "heatherns" as my grandmother would say. xoxo

Anonymous said...

Well DocP.......I never considered the sartorial emergent element when I looked upon my grandfather. But you are right. He was always dressed. He was a "pioneer" doctor. Educated for surgery in Vienna but brought his skills back to Oklahoma to service his community and to woo and support a stunning Texas bride, my grandmama. He was always on call. Those were the days when a doctor came to your because you were sick, for kryssake. He delivered calves and fillies in tornado weather out to the barn and washed his hands up to deliver your baby on the kitchen table. There wasn't anyone else. He was an amazing surgeon and diagnostician.........and you are right, he had to be dressed. You just brought it all back to me. He was either in his undergarments (which I shudder to imagine) or he was dressed. My grandpa WAS a formal gentleman, given the times and hailing from Houston and all. I think, also, that being a 33rd degree mason or whatever he was and his medical station within the community embued him with a certain elan which some southern men extract from their mother's nipples and forever feel comfortable with.

Anonymous said...

DocP.....The failure to respond to invitations has plagued me for the last 30 years. Seriously. What has happened to the simple response? A call? An email? A fuck you? A RESPONSE!! And then when you GET an acceptance and it turns into a NO-SHOW? Please. These are the people who will complain when no one responds to THEIR invitations and they never even see the link !!!!

Next book club selection...........the remastered Emily the eBook...........

ADG said... I've said...there's just a general lack of courtesy... across all social strata.

AnonymousOklahoma...Your grandfather was from the days of General Practitioners being super-doctors...because they had no choice. And everyone in the South back then was a Mason.

Preppy101...LFG at least says "may I be finished" and that's close enough for me.

DocP...whatcha cooking next weekend?

Kathie...war takes in incredibly huge toll on soldiers. That's why poorly thought out wars incense me.

Anonymous..."The Doctor" sounds like quite a guy. Do you have pictures of him from that time? in California was no excuse for Mr. Brady.

LittoralDave...good for you re your nephew and thanks for the offer on the backup. I have a knife.

Anon...yes, we are overly impressed with basic service because we don't get it consistently.

CDClaycomb...My mother used to hate it when the minister would come for dinner because he ate so much. Crocs in the pulpit. Unforgivable.

ilovelimegreen said...

Living in California did not justify NOT wearing a tie to dinner (for Mr. Brady), but rather explained WHY, according to my father.

Mistress Cynica said...

I, too, grew up in SC. We went to my great-grandmother's house for dinner on Sundays, and everyone dressed up. I'm sure she didn't wear it in the summer, but I always picture "Big Mama" in blue or black velvet with a cameo. My grandmother always said the world started going to hell when people stopped dressing for dinner. If she saw what shows up in the grocery store or the workplace--much less in church--she would have an attack of the vapors.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant pic! I'm from GA and remember those days as well. We collected at my grandmother's house EVERY Sunday. Sickness didn't even grant you a pass either as long as your level of contagion wasn't over the top. These memories are some of the best of my life. Thanks for sharing yours with us!

Gail, in northern California said...

Your Uncle Jim is my kind of guy.

ADG said... Uncle Jim was a legend.

Mistress...hadn't thought about cameos in ages. I think my sister has my grandmothers'.

LimeGreen...why such fuss over Mr. Brady?

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

I'm so impressed that the children were allowed to sit at the table with the adults. Children were NEVER allowed at the "big table" when the dinner was put on by someone on my mother's side of the family. Since my brother and I were the only grandchildren on my daddy's side, they were kind enough not to put us aside UNLESS the dinner was at our house. My mother was a stickler for following HER mother's rules. Clearly, I did not follow suit.