I don’t want to create the impression that my childhood was tightly regimented, but you could determine the day of the week by seeing what was served for breakfast. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we each had one fried egg, one strip of bacon (or one sausage link), and four ounces of orange juice. Tuesday we had scrambled eggs, Thursday we had French toast, Saturday we had cold cereal, and Sunday we had pancakes. Sometimes we had coffee cake along with the scheduled breakfast–usually leftover coffee cake from some other event. Only three days varied the routine: on Thanksgiving and Christmas we had coffee cake for breakfast, and on Easter we ate breakfast at church after the sunrise service.
Lunch was usually sandwiches, and (in the winter) a bowl of soup. The sandwiches might contain deli meat or perhaps a salad made from eggs, tuna, or some meat left over from an earlier dinner. Side dishes might be chips, pickles, applesauce, or whatever else was available. Since I lived just down the street from the school, I had lunch at home every day of the week. Sundays we did not have lunch; we had dinner at noon, generally a major meal with a beef roast or ham or some other big piece of meat, along with a vegetable, a salad, and a starch (whether bread or potatoes). On Sundays we had supper in the evening–generally sandwiches, just like lunch the other days of the week. The other evenings of the week we had dinner in the evening.
Monday was always laundry day. Everything was washed on Monday: bed sheets, towels and wash clothes, and clothing. Weather permitting, bed sheets and some clothing were hung in the back yard to dry. Everything was ironed, even bed sheets and blue jeans. Monday night’s dinner was frequently leftovers from Sunday’s dinner, unless it was something else easily prepared.
Friday was grocery shopping day, followed by a thorough housecleaning. When we got up Friday morning, we had to clear the furniture so it could be dusted and also pick up things from the floor so the floor could be vacuumed. All those things were piled on the bed; when I got home from school, I was expected to put them all away again. Not only were the bedrooms dusted and vacuumed; the living room and dining room were also dusted and vacuumed, and the kitchen was mopped. Friday’s dinner was either a casserole or something else easy to prepare, such as spaghetti or Spanish rice con carne.
Christmas was the only holiday that interfered with these Monday and Friday schedules.
Every lunch, dinner, and supper included a dessert. Lunch desserts might be a cookie or a piece of cake; dinner desserts were often pie or something else fancy. Desserts were always homemade. Bread for sandwiches or for a side at a dinner was also homemade. Dinners always included a salad–usually lettuce and dressing, but sometimes coleslaw, and sometimes (generally in the winter) jello with fruit. Many of the vegetables we ate were home-grown, either fresh when in season, or thawed and cooked after being frozen. After dinner we each had one piece of candy. In November, my piece of candy would come from what I had received on Halloween’s tricks-or-treats. That often lasted until Christmas. Christmas stockings included candy, and candy was also given on Valentines’ Day and in Easter baskets. When holiday candy had been consumed, we generally each got a piece of candy from a box of chocolates.
Dishes were done after every meal. (We didn’t have a dishwasher.) My mother washed the dishes; the rest of us dried them and put them away. Sometimes we played guessing games while doing the dishes (“I’m thinking of something vegetable.”) and sometimes we sang songs (“I’ve been working on the railroad.”). Doing the dishes was inevitable after every meal, and no one was excused from the chore.
We always ate our meals at the dining room table. Television was not on while we ate, with a rare exception for a Chicago Cubs baseball game or Chicago Bears football game. For a while, we also made an exception during Sunday supper for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Often the radio was on while we ate, especially during breakfast, and at times records were played during meals, especially in December when we listened to Christmas music.
When my friends visited and stayed for a meal, they were startled by the formality of my family. The table was always set with a plate, a glass, a spoon, a knife, a fork, and a napkin for each person. Food was served from platters or bowls, never from pots or pans. When the food was on the table and everyone was seated, we said a quick prayer, and then we passed the food around the table. No one started eating until everyone had his or her food. Each of us was expected to eat all the food that we put on our plates. Second servings were permitted, but only after everyone had finished their first servings. Dessert was not served until each of us had finished the rest of the meal.
Mealtime was family time. No one missed a meal unless work or school or sickness made it necessary to be absent. We talked to each other while we ate (but never spoke with food in our mouths), reviewing the day’s events or sharing jokes we had recently heard. Often during Sunday’s dinner we would discuss the pastor’s sermon. Feeders outside the dining room window held seeds to attract birds, and sometimes we would comment on an unusual visitor to the feeder.
Mealtime was valuable time, both for nutrition and for family togetherness. Many of my warmest childhood memories took place in the family’s dining room. J.