SOCIABLE SUNDAYS ON THE FARM
Sundays on the Farm were the most sociable day of the week. We always got dressed early on Sundays, in our cleanest clothing, waiting for the first car to arrive. Mom had the house spic and span and the dinner simmering on the woodstove. It was always dinner to us. Supper was the evening meal. Noone ever ate anything as flimsy as "lunch", nor anything as sensible as a sandwich. It was a full meal every noontime and again at night.
Sometimes Mom cooked her miraculous meatloaf, where she took a pound of hamburger and stretched it to feed fifty people. Jesus with his loaves and fishes had nothing on Mom, she could create a meal out of almost nothing. And there were always those fried biscuits and gravy.
No one in the North makes milk gravy the way a Southerner can do it. What they consider milk gravy could very often double as paste. It can glue a kindergartner's scribbles together, but it sure doesn't taste like good old hillbilly milk gravy. To make correct milk gravy, one starts with something greasy....either bacon grease or sausage. Then the trick is to brown that flour in the grease until it is almost burnt, but still a good hearty brown. Then one adds milk and stirs like hell. A little salt, a little pepper, and the result is sheer Heaven.
Mom made milk gravy for every meal, three times daily, along with her biscuits. She never took the flour out of its storage bin, but somehow made biscuits right at the top, molding them with her hands. It only took her a few minutes. I've tried it, and the result has been chaos. Flour everywhere, sticky dough, and biscuits that do not rise properly. And my gravy is usually burnt and lumpy. This is because I am a failure as a Southern cook. My talents lie in eating the food prepared by good cooks. I am far too talented at this, believe me.
Anyway, the first car usually arrived at about noon, and someone in the house would announce its arrival. Then we all flocked to the door. We did this whether or not the person arriving had just left the house a while before. No one could arrive at the Farm without a proper greeting.
Before an hour was spent, another family or so would have arrived. Soon all twelve of the children and their families would be represented. It was like a family reunion held weekly, and it was a great deal of fun. Everyone jibbered and jabbered and laughed and teased and sometimes someone got miffed at something or other, but most of the time they got along just fine.
All of the children took off for the orchards where they could play away from the eyes of the adults. We always knew it was best to get out of the way, before someone thought up a chore to do. The cows would munch at the grass and low at us as we scattered among them, their voices like foghorns in the summer heat.
In the winter, when it was too cold to escape to the orchard to avoid helping set the table or clear it, or help with the dishes, we used to hide in the attic. The kitchen stove pipe ran through the attic and one could hear everything going on below, so we would sit silently and listen to the women talk as they washed and dried the dishes. It was educational and informative, even though we didn't understand half of it.
As we grew older, we became interested in sex, but knew better than to approach the adults with our questions. Sex wasn't discussed in our homes. If someone told an off-color story, the children were asked to leave the room. Sex was a mysterious activity kept secret from children, and so it was up to the children themselves to find answers for their questions. Because of the mystery of sexual information, boys were kept completely separate from girls. No girl in our family had ever seen a brother or a father unclothed. It was unheard-of!
I can remember Sis and I searching through a dictionary for the meaning of the word "rape", which we had heard through the attic pipeline when someone below was discussing a newspaper article. In the dictionary, the word "rape" was described as "the carnal knowledge of a woman without her consent."
This didn't help a heck of a lot. We had no idea what "carnal" meant and didn't know what involved consent. But our search for information continued. Somehow, one of us found a picture of a sculpture of King David. He was naked, except for a fig leaf. This was mighty puzzling to us. A man's sexual apparatus was evidently leaf-shaped!
We hid the picture under the tattered rug in my bedroom for future referral and knew no more about sex than when we had started our quest for information.
Then, Mom took me into the kitchen with her for a long talk. Helma had reported that a boy at school had said that I was "right up his alley," so Mom decided it was time to give me some instructions. As I sat on a stool, she began to speak, her face bright red with embarassment. She told me to protect my "birthright" and not to allow any boy to get it.
I agreed, vowing to protect my birthright with all of the strength in my body. I left the meeting with Mom, as she sighed with relief, without a clue as to what she was talking about.
So we roamed the orchard, this great group of children, boys and girls, as innocent as the lambs in a meadow. We played our games of Cowboys and Indians, squabbled, tortured the little ones, climbed the gnarled old trees and grew like Topsy, unhindered by adult supervision. And, when the Sunday was over, and the last light was peeping through the trees, we hated to leave our kingdom until the next weekend.
I think of this as I stare out the rain-spattered window, some sixty years gone swiftly by, the Farm now peppered with the houses of a subdivision after its years of a gravel pit were completed. Oh, how prim and proper and lavish those homes, sitting as they are on our juvenile playground. The apple trees are gone now, the swamps filled in, the tall grasses replaced by glowing, manicured lawns. But perhaps, if you listen closely, you can hear the laughter of children. If so, it's our Clan, the big, unruly, happy bunch of kids, celebrating Sunday as God intended, enjoying the sun, the wind, the sky and the trees.