Growing up as the middle child of five inclined my life to be people-filled and somewhat chaotic from the start. Add to that my father being a minister and living in the parsonage next door to the church – you get the picture.
I guess my parents had two congregations, just under two different roofs. One big. One small. But both close in proximity. Needless to say, vying for our own little congregation was a challenge.
My parents were, and still are, very gracious and generous people. There was always room for one more, or food for seven or seventeen – what’s the difference. Somehow my Mom had a knack for making it all stretch. Just serve more rolls, add water to the soup, or better yet, send Dad for a quick run to the grocery store with his last five-dollar bill. A last minute curve ball did not faze her. She had the gift of hospitality for certain – a God-given ability.
Sunday lunches were by far the best. As we got older, lunch at our house after church was the place to be. Rarely did my Mom squelch our invitations for more guests. In true Southern style, there was no set time, just whenever everyone got home from church, the table set, tea brewed, and then whenever the roast was ready to appear.
And no hurry to clean up. Just lots of lingering after the meal, sipping coffee in china cups over a consumed table. Discussing, bantering, and solving the world’s problems. Seldom was heard, “Can I be excused?” Rather a reluctance to miss out on good conversation and a priceless good laugh. And there were many of those.
I have to admit; my favorite laughs were the ones where you really should NOT be laughing. Usually the offender was my brother – the memory vault for every joke he has ever heard. He had the uncanny ability to not only remember them, but to then re-tell them, successfully – asking forgiveness ahead of time of course.
As he would launch in, we’d all grip our breath, glancing tensely toward my Dad at the end of the table. Sure enough, the ending would hit and with a look of forced self-restraint, my Dad would burst into laughter – all the while shaking his head in shame as the dominoes fell around the table. Truth be told – watching my Dad was the funniest part of it all – not the punch line.
I can remember my Dad’s laughter like it was yesterday, but I couldn’t retell one of my brother’s improper jokes for the life of me. I could not recount one table conversation, not any particular story, though in the moment I was a captive audience. You may ask – what good is it if you can’t remember? Yet I know that is exactly why I remember – because there were so many, too many to count, too many to remember. Sunday after Sunday, year after year.
It’s not the details that I recall, nor the very words that were said – it’s the unspoken joy that returned to us over and over. That is what lingers – that is what I carry with me, tucked away in my heart to visit anytime. In any instant I can transport myself back to that table. I hear the clink of china amidst the chatter, smell hot bread and eggplant casserole, see the sunlight stream through the ice tea glasses watching the sugar swirl down. I see the faces of my family, friends, hear laughing, conversing, enjoyment, and peace. There is warmth and welcome. My cup is full. I belong – and all is well with the world.