Agnes Williams

  City of Birth:
New Orleans

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Agnes's Story > Chapters > Life in the South

"Dressing for Dinner" 


Date Range: 01/01/1950 To 12/31/2007   Comments: 7   Views: 7,638
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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.

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Member Since
Dec 2007
Jodie Andrefski said:
posted on May 28, 2008
ahhhh lovely.

This is the way it should be. It all sounds so gracious and simply wonderful.

Member Since
Aug 2007
Archibald Sharron said:
posted on May 28, 2008
Dinner for Ms. Agnes

Dinner at my house was decidely less fancy, but the manners were the same. Going to bed without dinner was the worst punishment. I would too also rather have been spanked. With regards, Archibald Sharron

Member Since
Aug 2007
Marilyn Rupert said:
posted on May 29, 2008

Dinner at my house was peanut butter & jelly or mac-n-cheeze /tuna caserole if we were lucky - with the TV turned on .... I like YOUR version much better!

Member Since
Aug 2007
Susan Janneck said:
posted on Jun 10, 2008
Dinner with Ms Agnes

Oh, I just loved your story about dinner time. For us it was suppertime. During the week it would usually be just us children and mom because dad wasn't home from his truck driving job yet. We did all sit at the table. Mom would help clear but doing the dishes was the job of us three oldest girls. We always fought over who was going to wash. It would take us an hour to finally finish all those dishes, pots and pans. Whew.

Member Since
Aug 2007
Brian Childers said:
posted on Aug 21, 2008
our house

mac-n-cheese, hot dogs, baked beans... yum :)

Member Since
Nov 2008
Anne K said:
posted on Nov 07, 2008
Dinner Likewise

I was born in Germany but adopted by an American couple who brought me to the US when I was seven where I lived in the South as well. Our dinners were much the same and I always loved the civility. Now I try to make dinners with my husband equally as special every evening, not just on holidays and anniversaries....because I want him to feel as special as he is. Agnes, very nice story, I enjoyed it!

Member Since
Aug 2007
Agnes Williams said:
posted on Nov 27, 2008
Dear Anne

I agree, I try to too, but it's always so difficult. Shhh! To always have the dishes ready and think about what to cook and such. Overall it's a treat. I just hate to think about how many meals I've cooked in my lifetime. A little overwhelming. However, I suppose, one has to eat, so better to eat well!