Thursday, October 4, 2012
The Preacher’s Corner
Auntie Fran’s spaghetti and high company
A friend of mine is getting ready for high company. I was delighted to hear this old Southern expression once again, for it used to be heard in my family all the time.
High company for my grandmother was what high mass is to a priest. It was the sort of phrase that struck fear in young and old alike. For me, it meant there would be no spreading my toys out all over the living room, and for the adults it implied lots of cleaning, cooking, and sewing just to get ready.
My friend was having a new floor put in—just the sort of thing we used to do in our family when high company was about to descend.
High company in our family came in several forms. It might be a one-time dinner, like the time my parents had my first-grade teacher and her husband over, just to be sure I got all the attention they thought I deserved in those days of huge classes—we had at least thirty kids in our room, and I have a photo to prove it!
There were also the days the ladies’ circle from the church was invited in, or one of my grandmother’s card parties took place. The groups were similar. Women dressed up for occasions then, and there was lots of talking, eating, and general conviviality—and little boys were to make themselves scarce. One could not even take refuge in the bedroom, for there was no TV there in those days, and the room was filled with coats.
Mother and Daddy both worked and didn’t have as much time to entertain, but another form of high company that I enjoyed more, even though it took longer was the annual visits of our several sets of relatives and kin.
There were my Memphis grandparents (daddy’s parents), and his three sisters with whom they lived, all in one big house on Linden Avenue. There were mother’s people — Aunt Marguerite and Uncle Ernest all the way from South Carolina, Uncle Bill and Auntie Fran from Illinois, and then there were my aunt, uncle, and cousin from Louise, Mississippi — the closest in proximity, and so familiar and easy-going we did not treat them like high company. In fact, they were prone to drop in, and more than willing to eat sandwiches made from whatever we’d had for Sunday dinner.
My female relatives were all like Martha in the Mary and Martha story of the Bible — bustling around worried that everything be just perfect. Before anybody could come to see us, the floors had to be vacuumed, the kitchen mopped and waxed, the bathrooms scrubbed, all the furniture dusted, beds changed, and closets rearranged for their hanging clothes. It took a lot, and I was mostly in the way. I was usually ejected from my bedroom.
There was a sense of anxiety about the whole business that implied that an inspection committee was coming to pass judgment, which I could never understand because I thought these were the people who loved us most.
Later I understood more about a woman’s pride and the desire to do one’s very best for others. Still, when I visit friends who have junk piled to the ceiling all over their houses, but who sing out, “Come right on in,” when I hit the door, I feel a wonderful sense, not only of welcome but of relief!
There is something to be said for the more casual lifestyle of our modern existence. I don’t like to think I have to be fixed up for, and I might not go if I thought it meant putting people to a lot of trouble.
The one person in our family for whom you could be both high company and just folks was my Auntie Fran in Illinois. She was completely at ease in her entertaining. The food was wonderful and the atmosphere homey and relaxed. She could give big parties for the university people with whom Uncle Bill worked, and family members were put right to work in the kitchen, sharing the tasks at hand while visiting.
Once Auntie Fran had made a huge tray of spaghetti for a supper that we’d planned to attend. I never see spaghetti at a church supper that I do not think affectionately of this.
A terrible storm caused the church supper to be cancelled, so my grandmother, cousin, and I joined Uncle Bill in eating spaghetti doctored up in half a dozen different ways, for Auntie Fran was not going to waste it. I don’t think she had a deep freeze.
We thought the whole thing was hilarious! We even had a spaghetti picnic at a nearby state park that preserves a log cabin where Abraham Lincoln’s parents lived in their old age.
Why am I so interested in Abraham Lincoln? It may be because of Auntie Fran and her spaghetti, and the delightful home life she maintained, into which I was made to feel so welcome. That was high company at its very best!
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