I always wonder what the casual observers think as they drive past my mom’s house on a Sunday. Cars line up four deep in her long driveway and park along the street in front her house, suggesting a crowd of people inside. If it’s nice outside, kids loop up and down the sidewalks on bikes and scooters, ride swings, and fling sand in the sandbox.
It looks like a party.
In reality, though, this is just a typical Sunday at Grandma’s.
In some ways, it’s so very simple and ordinary. It’s just food and family. But that’s what makes it so extraordinary: my mom has a long-standing open invitation for family to eat and hang out for brunch and supper on Sunday. When family is my dozen siblings and me, and of course spouses and grandchildren, that is extraordinary.
The crowd varies week to week, but remains large by most people’s standards. A rare small crowd is ten, and quite frequently on bigger days, a meal might serve 35.
When you walk inside the back door, you’ll need to watch your step to not trip over the collection of shoes in the entry.
Walk in at noon, and you’ll find Sunday brunch on the super-stretch dining table: pancakes, French toast, several kinds of eggs, fruit, rolls and juice (and this is by no means an exhaustive list).
By the end of the meal, you’ll have a cup of tea in front of you. There is always tea. Mom began serving tea at meals years ago when a few Australian exchange students lived with our family and worked on the farm. I don’t know how Aussies drink their tea, but Mom freely suggests making it the “right way:” with a mounded spoonful of sugar (or two) and a generous pour of half and half.
After brunch, the dining room crowd thins. Kids disperse to other parts of the house and some of the family heads out to take care of other Sunday afternoon projects or errands.
Once we clear the table, out comes the weekend newspaper, and everyone browses the store ads. Sometimes, the tablecloth is flipped up and folded back on one end, revealing the half-finished puzzle waiting underneath.
On the counter you’ll always find a jar of gummy worms and a few containers of candy. On one end you’ll see the lion cookie jar that someone gave Mom as a joke for Christmas a while ago. Open it up, and the lion threatens, “Get your hands out of my cookie jar! Rooarrr!” in an annoying but very familiar voice. Inside, you’ll find an always bountiful stash of Dum Dum suckers. If you are little, Grandma will be happy to help you sort through the suckers to find the best one.
If you wander into toward the living room, you might find a barricade of couch cushions and blankets blocking your way. Hiding under those cushions are a few kids and maybe some stuffed animals.
Behind the couches in the living room, you’ll find the collection of toys from our youth. Those toys mysteriously trickle out into the living room and the rest of the house during the course of a Sunday. Legos from 25 years ago get lots of use, and my old Cabbage Patch Kid gets covered up in the old doll bed. Barbies with big 80’s hair sometimes get dressed in a groovy Barbie outfit from the 70’s.
You never know what might resurface from the toy collection. In the last few weeks, Leech Man (a He-Man action figure) enjoyed more play than he’s had in decades.
In the formal dining room, a collection of boy cousins might hover around the screens of their hand-held video games.
Head upstairs to the bedroom with the built-in bunk beds (but don’t yell as you go past the room with the sleeping toddler), and you’ll find a collection of paper cups taped to the wall. Each cup has a label with a kid’s name from some game the cousins invented for themselves. Here and there you occasionally find a notebook with pictures, a story, or game rules from some project invented while the grown ups in the family did boring things.
Way up in the back room of the attic lies the other treasure trove. Garment racks hold dresses saved from years of proms and bridesmaids. The old prom dresses lay dormant for years, but they recently saw a resurgence in popularity, and make fairly frequent appearances in fashion shows around Grandma’s house.
As five o’clock approaches, cars again collect in the driveway, and a huge spread of food comes out again. More home cooking is on the menu, often something like meat and potatoes, salads, and of course, dessert. If you don’t want plain milk, Grandma has strawberry and even root beer-flavored available.
When it’s time to eat, the grown ups usually sit in the more casual dining room attached to the kitchen. Ironically, the formal dining room has the “kid table.” There, the drink of choice is usually flavored milk. If flavored milk doesn’t cut it, Grandma always has a few cans of whipped cream available. On Sundays at Grandma’s, you are free to make a towering mound of cream on top of your milk. A bowl of whipped cream is also acceptable for dessert.
All of these things make up our “ordinary” Sundays.
Sometimes, it’s hard to fully grasp what a huge blessing we have. It’s amazing to have this much family gather every Sunday, year after year. The photos with this article are actually from 2009, but Sundays are pretty much the same years later.
It’s often other people that help me to realize what I have. If a conversation comes up asking my Sunday plans, I mention we’re heading to my mom’s house…for brunch…and then supper. Eyes get bigger…wow, she makes brunch and supper? And then it becomes more astonishing when the sheer size of the family comes out. You have twelve siblings, and most of your family lives around here? And lots of them go to your mom’s every Sunday?
Yes, yes, and yes.
There is no thank you big enough to my mom for all of it.
It’s family. It’s food. It’s a Sunday recharging of your batteries. It’s lounging. It’s touching base and reconnecting. It’s sharing the headaches and stories from the course of the week. It’s playing and silly time. It’s suppertime laughter. It’s the conversation that is always the liveliest right when it’s time to be a responsible parent and take kids home and put them in bed for the approaching Monday.
And when it’s time to leave, if you are small and thirsty, Grandma will give you a juice pouch for the ride home. As you walk to your car, watch out for the scooter on the sidewalk.
It’s there every week. It’s a Sunday that soothes the soul.