Friday, August 3, 2012

Folklife Friday: Dinner on the Ground

In a time when there was little opportunity for women to show off their cooking skills, Decoration Day was their time to shine.  This meal was just as important, maybe more so, than Christmas dinner.  Although it was called "dinner on the ground", it was actually served on some rough lumber tables that had the gray patina of ancient artifacts but remained sturdy enough to hold a fine meal.

The lemonade, chocolate cake, apple pies, and oatmeal cookies could be prepared on Saturday and packed in baskets to get a head start on Sunday's chores. Rising with Sunday's sun, Grandma caught, killed, dressed, and fried three chickens. She boiled green beans and peas, both fresh from the garden. She fried squash with onions, then a bowl of battered okra slices. Corn, both creamed and on the cob, were wrapped and packed with corn bread and biscuits. Grandma always packed some peanut butter and crackers, just in case somebody couldn't eat the rich food offered.  Her overflowing baskets and cardboard boxes were neatly covered with starched, embroidered tablecloths that would be spread on the tables.

During this frenzy of cooking, Grandma fed her family breakfast, packed the car with the food and flowers, then bathed and dressed. Grandma knew someone with a camera, and always asked that they come by and take a picture of her and Charlie in front of their prized flower garden. Charlie, tall and thin, in a new shirt that looked exactly like all his other shirts, stood soberly beside the smiling Georgia for the photograph.  I don't know if any of these pictures have survived. I wish I had one to share here, but you will just have to use your imagination.

Upon arriving at the church house and cemetery, the lunch was forgotten in the frenzy to get those colorful flowers on  the graves.  After that job was done, it seemed a long, long time before we were able to eat.  Some went into the tiny church house for singing, but it wouldn't hold all the people there.  There was no air conditioning, so we just hung out in the shade and waited.  We could hear the singing through the open windows.  When it stopped, we knew someone was praying and it wouldn't be long before dinner was spread!

The singing continued after dinner, but most people, full and hot and tired, sneaked away to take a much-deserved nap at home.  On very special days, there was leftovers.