When Aaron and Katie were in high school they were required to write many papers in their Comp 110 English Class. This class counted as college credit and the standards were set high. I remember them both struggling many nights trying to come up with topics or ideas that would get them the A grade they so desperately wanted. They both had the same teacher even though they were three years apart. Aaron took his class in 2002 and Katie in 2005. In this class they both had an assignment to write a paper that showed pride in their heritage and taught their audience something about their family.
In 2002, Aaron titled his paper Sunday Lunch. It reads as follows:
My grandmother rolled out of her iron bed at five o'clock, as she did every Sunday morning. She began preparing rolls, roast, salad, mashed potatoes and pies for a family of twenty-five. I heard the familiar sounds of pans rattling and the kitchen faucet squeaking on and off as I lay half awake on the couch where I feel asleep the night before. I squinted my eyes, watching her add the yeast to the warm water and coat the baking sheets with Crisco so the rolls would not stick. She cherished every Sunday lunch as if it were the last one. Although she couldn't eat half of what she made because of her diabetes, I saw the love she put into each dish. The whole family would arrive after church and she couldn't wait. Grandma's Sunday lunch brings the family together.
Once the family arrives, twelve grandchildren gather around the table in the playroom. The room smells musty from spilled cokes on the old green carpet. We fidget, as Neil and I whisper for Madison and Katie to "shut up" because grandpa is about to say the prayer. Finally, the adults give us permission to pile our plates from the the extended dining room table across the house. We weave around each other, fighting for the best piece of chicken and spooning our favorite side dish on to our plates as Aunt Judy tells us to slow down. Then back to the playroom we march, probably to add yet another spot on the old green carpet. While two-old Seth spreads his lunch across the table and reaches onto his sister's plate, we older kids discuss whether to play football, baseball, or the Nintendo after we scrape out plates clean. Of course, that means after we gobble down a piece of grandma's pecan pie.
After the last grandchild has finally scuttled out of the dining room, the adults all sit down, each one next to his or her spouse. Grandpa smiles from the head of the crowded table, elbows resting on the table and his hands folded together. The clear rainbow striped drinking glasses clink with tea or water while each dish floats around the table. Before long, story telling begins. Sunday favorites, such as the time Patty fell out of the car on the way to church or when Russell lost his finger in the car door or the reason my father's head is shaped the way it is. My dad's familiar laugh bellows through the house as he laughs at his own jokes. They all take turns telling stories of youth, and each one laughs all over again as though Patty fell out of the car for the first time. My grandmother scans the table to make sure all of her children are full and amused. Once the rolls and desserts disappear, each couple saunters into the living room.
The two recliners are the first choices as the men all settle down to watch the Dallas Cowboys. The women gather around on the blue sofa to chatter about how their husbands used to have a full head of hair and a thirty-two inch waist before Grandma fattened them up. We grandchildren head for the front yard to play tackle football with Mac, the boy across the street, even the though the adults don't permit it. Before long, Caleb is sprawled out in the grass wailing because he ran into the oak tree going out for a pass. Nothing new, we start again, running up and down the front yard as Grandma comforts Caleb in the kitchen with a wet wash cloth, and the men scream, "Be quiet!" because they are trying to watch the game. Our clothes dirty, our knees and elbows skinned, we score one more touchdown because we know one of our mothers will soon peer out from the door telling us to come inside and calm down.
Those are the Sundays I most remember, but several families have moved to Memphis and Arizona, and the older grandchildren are off at the Air Force and Harding. Those homemade rolls, mashed potatoes, and roast are now reserved for Christmas, when we can all come together again. The grandchildren still eat in the playroom, and adults still share the same old stories. It is still the same family even though we have grown older. I look back at those Sunday lunches and realize what they mean to me. I am closer to my family because of them. I hope that I can create the same atmosphere for my future family that my grandparents created for every one of their kids. I hope that I can bring my family together.
Katie's paper was titled Sharing The Love, and reads as follows....
In "What Makes A Family?" E.J. Graff states, "Romans didn't consider birth the only way to acquire offspring." My grandma swears that she doesn't have any Roman blood in her, but I'm not convinced. For the last fifty years of my Grandma's life, she's been raising children: biological children, foster children, grandchildren, neighborhood children, along with children that she babysits. Having a child in her arms has become an addiction that she can't overcome. Where ever she goes, she finds a child to keep her attention. When attending a funeral, my grandma seeks a child to distract her from the emotional pain. An innocent child is my grandma's arms brings her comfort in hard times.
In 1953 my grandma graduated college with a business degree that was only helpful in raising children and for home cooking. My grandma had her first child in 1954 and four more children by 1967. She yearned to help other children as well as her own, though. A few Sundays each year, Christian Family Services gave a presentation to her church congregation to encourage becoming a foster parent. My grandparents knew this was their calling and eventually became foster parents to a total of thirteen troubled and abuse children. When a foster child entered my grandma's life, she taught that child one on one how to play, love, and respect others. When Stevie, a victim of child abuse and neglect, came into grandma's home, he had never owned a winter jacket, so my grandma took him to Montgomery Wards and bought him two. Kelly, another foster child, never had been shown affection. Every night my grandma abandoned my pappaw in their bed to climb into bed with Kelly, telling her stories and rubbing her back until she fell asleep.
After my grandma' first grandchild, Sheila, was born, she decided to give up being a foster parent to take up babysitting full time. Every morning parents dropped off their children to spend the day at "Ms. Pat's" house. Children darted through the door; they couldn't wait to eat eggs and toast with "Mr. Buddy." The children would climb up onto my papaw's lap at the bar and share his breakfast with him before disappearing into the playroom. The playroom was a 30' X 30' room made into a child's heaven, complete with televisions, Nintendos, race car tracks, baby dolls and kitchen sets. My grandma loved all of the children in her house equally, but she had a special connection with the grandchildren. Children being babysat each had a plastic Tupperware sippie cup with their names written on them in permanent marker. Grandchildren had the same cups, but instead of using them, they sought out Grandma to sip Tab out of her massive 7-11 thermos. Play time was interrupted with a home cooked lunch of spaghetti with homemade rolls or pizza made from scratch. After lunch, one-by-one, Grandma rocked children to sleep singing, "Bye, bye baby bunting. Daddy's gone a hunting, to get a rabbit skin, to wrap the baby bunting in." She spent her days multitasking: laundry, baking, cleaning house, rocking babies, cooking lunch for a house full of kids, refereeing fights, and wiping tears and behinds all day long. At the end of the day, my grandma handed each child a Dum-Dum sucker and promised that they could return to her house the next day.
In addition to babysitting, my grandma was the director of a preschool, and every Tuesday and Thursday morning she buckled each grandchild and every child she babysat into her fifteen-passenger van. The squeaky voices of children singing, "The wheels on the bus go round and round," drowned out the rumbling muffler and squealing brakes on the cobalt van accented in rust from many years of use. Each child's lunchbox sat on his lap. She had prepared each lunch with individual requests in mind: some were ham, others peanut butter and jelly, a few had crust, but most were sliced into rockets and hearts with cookie cutters. My Grandma was the four and five year old teacher, but she knew all seventy-five children and their parents by name at the preschool and greeted each one as they walked through the door. Parents dropped their children off with reassurance that Ms. Pat would kiss scrapes and wipe away tears.
Even on the weekdends my grandma could't escape the yearning to be surrounded by children. For fifty years, she was the nursery teacher at her church. She sat behind the kidney shaped table with built in baby seats and taught the babies of the congregation. She sang, "Oh, I love to pat the Bible with hands God gave me," in her gentle monotone voice, and the toddlers listened intently. After class, she visited with fellow members and found her seat next to my pappaw on the third pew. She never sat long before she heard an upset baby and, by instinct, found it and ventured back to the nursery. Throughout the service, more children made their way back into the nursery to play with Ms. Pat.
E. J. Graff says, "To Europeans a family was anyone who lived and ate under his [father figure's] roof, at his table, and by his rules." My grandma does have European blood in her, explaining why she is seldom seen without a baby on her hip and another latching on to her pinky. Sometimes my pappaw will demand that she sit down and take a break. He brings her a plate filled with leftover bacon and toast from the breakfast she cooked earlier that morning, her half devoured Thermos of Tab, and the ads from the newspaper. He takes the kids on a walk around the block so that she has a few minutes to herself. It's never long before a waddling toddler or a crawling baby comes looking for her, wanting a sip out of her cup or a bite of her toast. She wouldn't want it any other way; children needing her attention is motivation to wake up each morning.