(In case you missed it and would like to read it, Part 1 can be found by clicking here.)
Have you ever heard the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? Sitting around the Lazy Susan Table at my grandfather’s house with my family made that particular legend come even more alive for me.
Provided, none of us were medieval knights.
In fact, I’m really curious to know what exactly Poppy would have done if someone had dressed in a full knight’s suit of armor and sat down at his table.
I have an inkling of what my grandmother would have done- she would likely have acted like there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary and offered the knight-in-shining-armor some peas.
That or she would have thrown a small fire-cracker in his suit when he wasn’t looking, but I’ll tell the story of Mama Harris’s pranks and antics another day.
Sitting around the Lazy Susan Table felt important. Our meal time was a big deal. Eating together as not just a family, but as an extended family, many times with neighbors and friends, is something that happened as a weekly event, a commonplace reality for me. People did not split up and sit in front of the TV, people did not eat at random times or separately- people sat down together, they ate together, and they enjoyed themselves together.
Being fortunate and blessed alike, even to this day I sit and eat with friends and relatives sometime throughout my week. The experience doesn’t feel quite as ceremonial as it did at Poppy’s house, where it happened week after week like clockwork, and oftentimes my friends and I improvise and are sporadic about when we’re dining together, and our menu changes frequently.
Unlike Poppy, who had accumulated over 80 years worth of cooking wisdom, most of us are in our 20s.
That means we occasionally make cooking mistakes.
You just have to accept that when you’re still in your 20s, sometimes the cookies burn.
Speaking of burning, allow me to recall one particularly vivid memory of Poppy: I had the chickenpox as a child. I was in 4th grade, so that means I was about 10 or 11. Because both of my parents worked, I stayed at Poppy’s. He and Mama Harris had both had the chicken pox when they were younger, so there was no danger of anyone catching it.
I was with him in the kitchen, watching him prepare lunch. Bear in mind that the majority of the time when we arrived on Sundays, most of the food had already been prepared, and people were getting ready to eat. Rarely did we see Poppy cook most of his food, so this day was especially unique to me.
He stood at the stove, frying cornbread. (To this day, and with my own mother as my witness, I am not a fan of baked cornbread, and that’s to put it rather mildly.)
Then he tossed the cornbread out…
… on his hand…
…and flipped it back into the pan on the side that hadn’t been cooking.
I must’ve been gawking, because Poppy started laughing and said, “You thought I was gonna burn myself, didn’t you? The trick is not to stand there like a fool with it on your hand and to get it right back in the pan!”
I’ve never actually fried cornbread myself, and I would be deathly afraid of an attempt to repeat the trick.
The only other time I saw this trick again was once when my Aunt Katharine was frying cornbread at Poppy’s house, but she was making multiple pieces of small cornbread.
Apparently, that was the tradition in the household for a long time- smaller, individual pieces of cornbread. The shift to the larger, singular piece of cornbread from which everyone torn a piece happened due to Poppy’s heart trouble, or so I was told by my mother many years ago.
Well, I promised that in this blog, I would provide more information about the history of the Lazy Susan Table’s entrance into my family and the role it’s played, but I seem to have filled the whole thing up with my own memoirs and how much the table means to me. So Part 3 will tentatively be dedicated to the history of the Lazy Susan Table.
One thing my father and I have talked about doing in recent years was actually constructing and selling Lazy Susan Tables. That would be an amazing thing. They really are a lot of fun, and it would keep the tradition alive by sharing it with other people. I can’t explain how great that table was to sit around.
Also, at the time of the writing of this blog, I have just been informed by my aunt about my grandfather and his lemon juice. According to Aunt Era Jo, Poppy would take a lemon, poke holes in it with a fork, and then squeeze what he needed into his tea.
Visitors and guests to the house would inquire about which end of the lemon the juice came from.
Either way, I adore lemon juice in my tea to this day.
Eating around the table was almost a religious experience for me; never mind that we went to Poppy’s on Sunday. But to say that religion and food are intertwined with one another in the general sense would be an understatement (especially from the perspective of Sociology), and this fact should be highlighted a thousand times over for the South.
It’s not just that our food tastes so good that it makes you want to sing praises to God (or gods or the universe depending on what you believe), it’s that people in the South, especially churches, will find excuses to eat.
There’s an old joke that goes something like this that my friend Doc told me a while back:
It’s show and tell day at school. A little girl gets up and says, “I’m Catholic, and this is my rosary.” A little boy gets up and says, “I’m Jewish, and this my Star of David.” Another little girl gets up and says, “I’m Baptist, and this is my Casserole Dish.”
But the Baptists are not alone in eating. There’s the old joke about the Baptists and Methodists trying to finish their sermon sooner than the other one so they can beat them to the buffet line at the restaurant.
If you’ve ever driven in a Southern city on Sunday around noon, you understand that simple truth. Hungry religious people will mow you down and steal parking places to get in line in front of you at the restaurants.
Other than that, there’s a simple rule you must remember in the South: “If a church can find a reason to have a communal dinner of some sort, they will.” This holds true regardless of the denomination. Many churches even have a coffee and donuts hour just after the service, especially to welcome newcomers. This is how they rope you into the “Sacred Rite of Eating in the Name of Jesus”- the one thing any Christian can get right the first time theologically.
I say that in slight jest, but there really is something special about eating with people communally, and the point of the small tangent upon is that the same effect happened at Poppy’s house. Thereto in addition, as I mentioned in the former blog, he always initiated the meal with a prayer.
Regardless of what you believe, the prayer of thanksgiving before a meal is important, because it is the act of giving thanks, of expressing thanks, of showing that one is grateful that one has food, that one is about to share that food, that has such meaning to it.
Some people argue that you can’t cultivate gratitude. I disagree. You can imagine something you have or like, and then imagine yourself being without it, or in some cases, remember when you were without it. (My MacBook is one such case. I am eternally grateful for my fantastic computer!) If anything, Poppy taught me through example to express gratitude for things.
He also taught me the joy of large meals, cooking lots of food, and spending time with people you love.
That Lazy Susan Table, with its food rotating to each person and the patriarch of my father’s side of the family at its head, has more stories to tell than you can imagine.
Another photo. You can see my grandmother’s head in the picture. My younger brother is sitting at the table, and you can see me looking at the camera, pushing my head back for some reason. This was taken in 1988, so I was about 3.
More stories about Poppy and Food coming up soon. In the meantime, happy cooking, and also, is anyone interested in the idea of owning a Lazy Susan Table?