Thursday, June 25, 2009

SCHOOL LUNCH




Chris' Dad has been gone from us for two years, now; the rocks we gathered---one BIG one from the roadside in each state we passed through on the way home from the funeral---are greened with a verdigris nurtured by all the steady rains of late. They sit in their appointed places amongst the deepshade hostas in the far back garden, where the wind chimes sway a faraway tinkle and the birds chat amongst themselves.

It's a peaceful place, with a little stone bench and a quiet engendered by the white noise of a big shopping center's machinery hum, the stark squareness of the business world hidden from view and distanced by the lush shrubbery and trees. I usually think of him when I wander out with first cup, or when I take a couple of pretty books out to the arbor for a foot-propped hour or so of time-frittery.

When I worked with GrandDaddy in Alabama, in the big multi-purpose offices which served his several businesses, I usually fixed lunch for him and whoever else was in the vicinity when we sat down---Chris or other family dropping in, or any of the workmen who conveniently managed to be nearby at noon. There was a neat kitchen with a big ole welcoming Formica table and its bright yellow chairs, and I’d make a pot of stew or beans to simmer all morning, or soup or salads or sandwich-fixings.

When it was just us two at lunch, I loved to hear all the tales of his growing-up days---his ox, and his goat-cart, and all the work of the truck-farm and the log house and all about the family. I learned years of family history and lineage, and personal little vignettes about this one and that one, from the perspective of a small boy, a teen laboring at work beyond his years, and then a husband and father and grandfather to an ever-expanding brood.


He told about going to the tiny school down and around the road. His Mama or much-older spinster sister would make them all lunches to carry for school---leftover cornbread with a hunk of cheese and a tomato to wipe warm down a shirtfront, with a little paper-twist of salt, or syrup biscuits and sausage, or his favorite: Two cold biscuits with fried ham, and a buttered one filled with his Mama’s homemade fig preserves.

One Monday, my two oldest sons had been to visit for the weekend, and I made them a nice breakfast before they got on the road for home. As I cleared the dishes after they left, I split two big ole cathead biscuits and put in thick slices of the pink ham, baked for Sunday Dinner and then sliced and fried for Monday breakfast. Then I took a buttered one and laid in two whole, beautiful preserved figs out of the jar, amber-quivery with those Summery sweet juices from the bushes in our yard.

It felt like a moment, somehow, to be prepared and arranged in a contemplative way, to be made into as much of the real of the thing as I could manage. And though I had foil and Saran and all manner of Tupperware takers and toters, I wrapped each sandwich in waxed paper and hunted up a little brown paper sack, wrinkled with its first use, but clean and whole, to hold them.


When lunchtime came, I set my bowl of salad at my place, and put the sack out of sight in one of the chairs at the table. We sat down, he said the blessing, and then he looked at my salad. He looked at me, then at his empty plate, back at me, with a little eyebrow lift of inquiry.

I reached and got the hefty little sack and set it in front of him. He opened it and peeked in, then drew out one little package, then another and the last. He opened them, looked at the fat round biscuits, then looked up at me with a big smile. It was as if memories had flown up into his face like butterflies with the opening of that bag, and I swear there were also tears in his eyes.

He ate every crumb and talked and talked about what a good lunch that was, and then told everybody who came into the office in the next few days. And he mentioned it fondly from time to time over the years---that schoolyard lunch in the brown paper bag.

4 comments:

Keetha said...

Oh, that brought tears to MY eyes. That's just marvelous - family and tradition and legacy.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely thing to do. The reading of this sent chills up my spine and also brought tears to my eyes. It's a reminder to me how precious are little things done with great love.

Maggie in Birmingham

Southern Lady said...

I love this, Rachel:

"The rocks we gathered ... are greened with a verdigris nurtured by all the steady rains of late. They sit in their appointed places amongst the deepshade hostas in the far back garden, where the wind chimes sway a faraway tinkle and the birds chat amongst themselves."

Sometimes your words are worth a thousand pictures, my friend.

Best wishes to you and your family for a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

Sincerely,

Janie

Southern Lady said...

That is such a precious story, Rachel. Thank you for sharing it and your father-in-law's memories with us. I'm sure you've touched many lives in the same way you touched his.