In the South, dinner is a past time, a ritual to be savored, an event of note. Dinner at our house started promptly at 6pm when my father had had time to arrive home, have my mother take his coat and offer him a drink, and he could sit and listen to Chopin for 15 minutes before dinner.
Dinner was always a lavish affair. You had to dress up for dinner; it was actually rather formal. You stood by your chair until everyone was there, then we held hands and bowed our heads for a blessing, usally said by Mother. My Father would then come to the other end of the table where they faced each other and move my Mother's chair in gently behind her.
Bowels of food were overfilled and passed around. A cooked meat, potatoes, grits, vegetables of some sort, and crusty white bread smeared in locally churned butter.
No one dared eat until everyone had been served. Mother would solicit my assistance to clear the plates after dinner. Then we would serve dessert - usually cobbler or pie with ice cream and coffee. My Father would allow himself only one "silly" during the meal and that was when he would get the dessert placed in front of him and he would gnash his teeth and say Yum Yum Yum in my Tum Tum Tum, and dig in.
We always ate in the dining room. Silver candles, full lace tablecloth, good china, little butter pats in small bowels, towels for your fingers, wine for the adults. The silverwear was polished once a month with a soft cloth. If any guests were visting, they of course got served first.
After dinner the men (or just my father) would retire to the porch to smoke a pipe and talk business. I would help my mother in the kitchen, and if any guests were there the women would join us. It was our time to gossip, share secrets, talk about the day, people, anything that came to mind.
I hated washing dishes, but I cherished this alone time with my mother, or when we had visitors, learning about them and sharing in their lives. It was like a secret club and we would laugh and nibble on cookies.
Manners were of utmost importance. Everything was "yes Ma'am" or "No Ma'aM" or "May I be excused now Ma'aM" - or Sir. Any disrespect at the dinner table was absolutely not tolerated. Punishment was a whupping, a cuff on the head, or worse - being banished without dinner.
When someone dies in the South, we bring this hospitality to the grieving family. Casseroles, dinners, helping out in the house so the family can have some peace.
Food is a huge part of our lives here. Manners are as well. So is socializing and friends. But mostly I cherished the evenings after the day washing while my mother dried.