Imagine a time, if you will, when there was no air conditioning anywhere with one exception, and that was the movie theaters in town. Cars didn’t have A/C either. If you lived in the ’50s, as I did, the only source of coolness (and I use that term loosely) was an oscillating fan. Houses could have more than one fan, but not my step-grandfather’s house; he only had one.
My memory of that house, its inhabitants and the ever coming and ever going of relatives is still vivid. The house seemed never empty.
Of all the rooms in the large house, the dining room was my favorite one. I was drawn to the different-colored needle-pointed chair seats and the “Coke-colored” glass window that was opened up for dinnertime.
Grandaddy insisted upon two meats for dinner and a plethora of vegetables, sauces, rolls and a dessert. There were two double glass candle holders on each end of the long table, and I don’t ever remember the lit candles ever going out.
The air inside the dining room seemed as thick as pea soup — stagnant and hot. Sweat poured off of everyone’s brows, including mine, but no one complained as we enjoyed a hot dinner.
Even though I was dressed in shorts, the wool, needle-pointed chair seats made my legs itch and I wanted to complain about the heat, but my mom would have given me that “look” if I did. I refrained.
I watched my grandmother and the maid come and go from the kitchen, bringing more of this and that to the dining room table all throughout dinner.
A nightly occurrence was the dropping by of relatives — relatives of Grandaddy, relatives of my grandmother, friends of my mom or friends of my mom’s sister. It wasn’t unusual for 12 or 13 people to be seated near or around the dining room table. Chairs were brought in from the hallway or the kitchen.
No matter how hot it was, the food stayed hot and I loved to watch people all around me converse about this and that while eating. And sweating. They were all used to the heat and I have to admit that I, too, would succumb to the power of devastating heat. There was no choice.
I look back with a smile when I think of my grandmother’s sister-in-law who seemed to always appear right before dinnertime, bringing her youngest son with her. It was like clockwork. The conversation at the table with her and my grandmother went like this: “Are you and your son hungry?” asked my grandmother. “No, I couldn’t eat a bite and neither could my son ... but oh that fried ham looks wonderful!”
I watched them both eat as if there was no tomorrow.
There had to have been some unwritten law that “hot food” must be served at dinner no matter how hot the outside or inside of the house was.
And worse was the mounds of dirty dishes, goblets, glasses, silverware, pots, pans and utensils. There were no dishwashers, only people. Nightly, I watched my mom help my grandmother wash and clean that huge pile.
All of the dishes were dried with tea towels. You can guess that next morning’s chore, after cooking a large breakfast, was to wash a ton of cotton tea towels for that night’s dinner. The tea towels were hand-washed and clothes-pinned to the backyard clothes line. I watched my grandmother do this every single morning, and eventually I was able to help her.
On my 13th birthday, after Grandaddy had passed away, my grandmother fixed a hot dinner for me. My mom was there as well and we sat at the same beautiful dining room table, but without the frills. It didn’t matter to any of us three — what mattered was that the time spent at that table was with loved ones.
In 1971, my grandmother passed away. My grandmother left the house and its contents to my mom and her sister, with a codicil that the piano would be mine.
I was a grown woman with a son a little over a year old when I lost my grandmother. No one wanted anything in the dining room and I asked if I could have the table, chairs and a small buffet.
Today, I have that green window, the six needle-pointed chairs, some plates, the goblets and the beautiful dishes. They all remind me of those hot summer night dinners with hot food served, and looking back, I thank God for those special evenings spent with loved ones. Hot or not, we were blessed.