Good Old Days Newsletter
|In the Good Old Days||'Til Next Time|
When did The New York Times first publish its Best Sellers list?
What's for Supper?
"What's for supper?"
Where I grew up, that question was posed daily to my hardworking mom from any or all of her rambunctious, growing-like-weeds kids. We were always playing outside, always burning off energy, and always, always hungry. Sometimes, she would have to ring the old iron bell that hung from the garage eaves to get us to stop playing wherever we were in the neighborhood or along the river, and head home for supper. But most times, our stomachs signaled us long before she needed to signal us.
Suppertime was special back then. There were no sports practices to get to until we were almost high school age. There were no after-school activities that took us away from the table. There were no commitments that crossed into that "golden hour" of family time. We gathered every day, like clockwork, uninterrupted, to share an evening meal.
And it was supper, not dinner, that we consumed around 6 p.m. every night at our house. I come from a strong German background that would no sooner use the word "dinner" to refer to that meal than skip church on Sunday. Dinner was at noon. Supper was at 6. I took this definition for granted, the same way I assumed everyone called soda "pop." It was only when I went away to college and got quizzical looks from my roommates when I would ask, "Who's ready to go eat supper?" that I realized not everyone was familiar with that term.
According to Wikipedia, "supper" is a name for the evening meal in some dialects of English. While often used interchangeably with "dinner" today, "supper" originally referred to a smaller meal, while "dinner" was used to refer to the main, heaviest meal of the day. Makes sense. My mom was raised on a large farm, and their main meal needed to be midday -- when her dad and brothers came in from the field for a break.
The distinction between dinner and supper was quite common in United States farming communities well into the 20th century. After all, young Laura Ingalls did not take a "lunch pail" to school from her little house on the prairie -- she took a "dinner pail." But eventually, Wikipedia says, the evening meal became the main meal of the day, so the word "supper" was replaced with "dinner" in most regions of the country.
Regardless of its origins, suppertime evokes nostalgic memories for me: two parents and four siblings all gathered at the same table, enjoying (no, devouring) whatever my mom had fixed. In between the bookends of prayers before and after, we talked, we laughed, we fought over the leftover hamburger gravy to drizzle over thick buttered bread for "dessert." (We would even call out, "First for gravy bread!" just to make sure we had dibs on the limited supply of the delicious stuff). We were in no hurry to get anywhere. Until my dad would push his chair back, grab a toothpick and declare my mom's presentation a delight to his taste buds, we just hung out at the table. Together. It was suppertime. There were no departures from this tradition.
As I got older and raised my own always-hungry kids, life got a lot more hectic. I had a full-time job once they were in school. My husband was a basketball coach, and the kids clamored to participate in all kinds of social and sports groups. That combination often squashed the desire for family suppers together. It seemed to me that the shift to dinnertime coincided with a change in culture that sapped the old-fashioned notion of suppertime of all its strength. It was a struggle to synchronize schedules, but we tried our best. And at least three or four times a week, we succeeded. I wanted my kids to have the same feeling about suppertime as my husband and I did.
Even though my kids are in college now, I'm not ready to give up the good fight just yet. I have not succumbed to calling the evening meal "dinner" and I am not about to let the family tradition fall by the wayside. "Kids," I texted to them the other day, "plan on all of us eating supper together Sunday night before you head back to school."
I must have done something right because a text message came back to me almost immediately from my son:
"First for gravy bread!"
PS. Did you have "supper" or "dinner" in the evening back in the Good Old Days? Send me your brief story at Editor@GoodOldDaysMagazine.com, and it could be featured in a future newsletter!
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Trivia Answer: It was Aug. 9, 1942, when The New York Times first began reporting on the top-selling books in the country. The Best Sellers list is considered highly influential and has launched many writers' careers. The methodology used in creating the list remains largely a mystery; it's classified as a "trade secret."
Find out more about the fashion, events and popular culture of the 1940s in the Live It Again book series at LiveItAgain.com, featuring the best of The Saturday Evening Post!