Friday, January 22, 2010

Sunday Dinner In The Country

The story is told of a pastor who was invited to come to dinner on a Sunday afternoon at the home of one of the large families of the congregation. All the kids had been put on notice by the worried mother that they be on their best behavior due to the pastor being the special dinner guest. As they all gathered around the bountifully set table, little Billy looked up to his mother and announced with surprise, “That looks like Pot Roast!” “It is Pot Roast”, replied the mom and dad in unison. To which Billy said, “ But Mom, I heard you tell Dad we were having the old Buzzard for dinner!”

One of the benefits (and/ or curses) of being a Preacher’s Kid is the large variety of after church dining adventures that one experiences – especially when Dad is the pastor of a country church, several miles from home. This can be an especially traumatic experience for kids like my brothers and I who were very picky eaters as youngsters. That is what made eating at Hugh and Nanny Meadow’s house a great experience. They owned a “Mom & Pop” grocery store next door to their rural home in Putnam County. When Nanny found out from Mom how finicky we were, she had Hugh go next door and pick up some Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Peter Pan Peanut Butter. At that time these were the only two brands of those particular foods that met our discriminating tastes. Dinner at Hugh and Nanny’s was always fear free for us kids. Sadly I can’t say the same about some of the other places.

Don’t get me wrong. As I got older I came to appreciate that many of these dear country ladies were absolutely great cooks. The ample waistlines of their husbands bore mute evidence to the fact. I came to really appreciate and love their various recipies for fried chicken, meat loaf, pork chops, turkey, beef and pork roasts, etc. These families always seemed honored to have the preacher and his family for dinner. They always brought out their best, and in later years I really regretted what we must have put Mom and Dad through with our finicky behavior around the dinner table.

As I began to enter my teenage years I became more appreciative of our country hosts. Especially those with teen aged daughters! The food was always delicious, and in some cases “dessert” came later on long walks through the woods or down country roads. One home in particular quickly became a favorite dinner destination of mine. Those after dinner walks with the young lady of the house (who will remain nameless for these purposes) led to a long term friendship that grew into a teenage romance that lasted all the way through our high school years. As Dusty Springfield sang, “When they gathered ‘round and started talkin’ that’s when Billy would take me walkin’. Through the back yard we’d go walking, and he’d look into my eyes, Lord knows to my surprise, the only boy who could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man…”. I sort of fancied that I might have been the inspiration for the song… but that’s another story for another time.

One Sunday afternoon in Putnam Co. West Virginia we went home with a particular family to their cozy home on Cow Creek Road. (Yep! Cow Creek Road) It was a family of three with a daughter two or three years older that I. Before dinner, while we could smell the rolls baking, we were treated to the dad’s old time country guitar style. Even though at that time the Beatles and the Dave Clark 5 were more my style, I was very impressed with his renditions of such old country favorites as “Wildwood Flower”, “Grave on the Green Hill Side”, “Great Speckled Bird”, and “He’s In The Jail House Now”.

Dinner was terrific and as it drew to a close , the mother said to her daughter, “Honey, why don’t you take the boys with you to feed the animals?” Feed the animals? This was NOT the after dinner activity I had been hoping for, but like it or not this is what was in store for me. All of the table scraps were dumped into a large bucket which already contained some soapy dishwater. Meat scraps, mashed potatoes, various mixed veggies etc all floated around in the nasty concoction.

I had the privilege of carrying the bucket out the back door all the way to the pig pen, where dwelt one really large, really smelly hog, which squealed with delight at our appearance. I gagged for the hundredth time or so as I was instructed to pour the buckets contents into the contraption that led to the feeding trough, and “Miss Piggy” went after it for all she was worth. This is the first time in my life I came to understand why in the country they call it “slopping the hogs”. Truer words were never spoken, and this city boy got a real education that day. What sweet memories!

While that Sunday was a memorable one, it pales in comparison to an afternoon spent in another rural home in the next county. This dear lady whom I will call “Sissie” (not her real name) had been after Mom and Dad for months to come home after church some Sunday for dinner with her family. She was a hard working single lady who lived in their small farm with her older single brother, and a mother who appeared to me to be about 100 years old, who stayed bed fast in a hospital type bed in a corner of the living room.

Sissie, stayed after Mom and Dad for months until I guess they finally ran out of excuses, so we made the trek about a mile down the road from the church to the little country house. This was the MOST country of all houses I had been in to that point. It was summertime, July or August and was it ever hot! The doors and windows were all open and all were devoid of any types of screens to keep out flying insects and other assorted varmints. Several dogs, cats, and a couple of chickens came and went as they pleased. The barn was not 50 feet from the house and there was a strong odor that gently wafted from the barn throughout all the farm house. Some strategically placed floor fans assured that the barn smells made it to every corner of the house.

There was no running water in the house. Water had to be drawn from the well on the back porch. This made the kitchen sink (which was connected to NOTHING) seem somewhat superfluous to my young mind. Sissie cooked on an old wooden cook stove and soon put out a big spread on the large kitchen table. We all gathered around the table on two long wooden benches (Walton’s style). Now I have already mentioned that I was a picky eater in those younger days and this particular Sunday presented a real challenge to me. There was a large bowl of what appeared to be some sort of potato dish. I figured that might be safe. However I was not sure of the cooked green stuff, some other brown something or other, and the bowl of lima beans. I reached for a piece of raisin bread and was shocked when all the raisins flew away!

The main course sat on a large platter in the center of the table. This mystery meat was a large slab of something with about 6 little bumps on it in two rows of three each. As I studied it in wonder, I heard Dad ask, “Sissie, what kind of meat is this?” With her speech impediment I was a little confused when she replied, “Dat’s tow belly.”

“Tow belly?” I thought, wondering what in the world that was, until I heard dad repeat, “Sow belly?” “Yep”, she said with a large toothless smile. That explained the nature of the little bumps on the meat, and at that point, dinner was finished for me!

That was many years ago, but the experience was seared into my memory. There are still some culinary concoctions I'm not too crazy about, but since then I have made several short term mission trips, and have "broken bread" with folks in other cultures. Some of the offerings were what by late friend, Rick Rakes, would have called "Fear Factor Food". I have had a few UFO's (unidentified food objects) set before me. I am very thankful that God has given me a little stronger stomach, less of a gag reflex, and a couple of verses of scripture that have helped me through some culinary crises.

1 Corinthians 10: 25-27 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. (NKJV)

1 comment:

Patsy said...

Brother CJ,
I really enjoyed the Sunday Dinner in the Country blog. My husband is a preacher's kid and it reminds me of his stories he has told of his own childhood in rural KY and Georgia. Thanks. I am sharing this one with him today!!