By Anne McKee / guest columnist
Amid new hats and gloves, frilly dresses, and Easter egg hunts, I find tucked memories of family dinners celebrated on Easter Sunday – oh, what a glorious day!
As a child traveling to Newton County, Mississippi, it was an all-day-event and only planned for special times, such as Easter Sunday. The excursion was to my Harrison grandparents for the noon-time meal that we called dinner. The trip was planned by correspondence of letters several weeks in advance.
I remember when the letters from my grandmother arrived in our mailbox. The beautiful large, flowery, handwriting practically jumped off of the envelope, loudly declaring her teaching profession – a graduate of The Meridian Female College. My grandfather was so proud of her handwriting that he insisted she was in charge of all of their correspondence. Thinking to that pre-telephone, computer time, when there was no information-highway, other than the postman, grandmother’s job was of most importance. For this special day, my parents and I left our home in Meridian early in the morning, directly after the sunrise service at our church, and arrived at the Newton county home place around 10 a.m. By the time all of the family arrived, which included aunts, uncles, cousins and occasionally my paternal Granny, too, there would be a house-full. Soon laughter rang throughout the halls as we all enjoyed family time in Mississippi.
On occasion we would arrive in time for the preparation of the Easter Sunday family dinner. By this I mean, my grandmother would have selected a nice, fat hen from the chicken coop and enclosed her in a special place where she would be corn fed for several days — then the processional began.
I have tried to blank out the trauma of witnessing the assassination of Bertha, the hen (my name for her), because the memory gets bloody and feathery — too much for me. But after Bertha’s demise, a big pot was filled with very hot water to continue with the de-feathering, and after that, the poor bird was dissected and parts divided — one part for frying and another part for boiling.
The results were a very large platter of pan-fried chicken and a tremendous pot of chicken and dumplings — enough to feed 12 to14 family members, plus the preacher and his wife, especially on Easter Sunday.
There was one Sunday when there was a new preacher at the dinner table. In a solemn voice he proclaimed, “Never waste food.” That statement was accompanied by the loud crunching of chicken bones left on his plate. The family looked on this display of thrift with wide-eyed wonder. Finally, my always-obedient-mother tried one of her chicken bones. It didn’t go too well. Thankfully, the preacher moved quickly to dessert and the bone crisis was over.
The last addition to the dinner table was the huge pan of cathead biscuits — all big and fluffy, piping hot with dimples made in the dough (eyes, nose and mouth), similar to a cat. Serving plates were passed and everyone smacked their lips as my grandparents smiled with pride at their family.
Sometimes, a surprise dessert appeared — a large, buttery, crusty blackberry pie. My grandfather walked miles to his favorite blackberry thicket to gather enough for the special Sunday dinner dessert. It gave him pleasure to see his family enjoy his very favorite dessert — and enjoy we did!
The kitchen was cleaned and out came the boiled eggs for dying, then hiding! That consumed two hours of pure joy as my cousins and I scampered around the large farm to find our eggs.
Next it was entertainment time when my grandfather pulled out his fiddle from the old red trunk and began a one-man show of barn-dance favorites. My grandmother said she would wear out a set of slippers at each dance, when she was younger, as he played with other relatives and neighbors, for an old-fashioned community gathering.
A penchant and talent for music seems to have saturated the Harrison genes from the talent of my great grandfather, William Henry Harrison, who led the Newton County Singing School until his death in 1936.
Of course, I don’t remember him since he died many years before my birth, but I do remember my grandfather’s joy and grandmother’s smile as he tapped his foot and played his prized fiddle, especially for the grandchildren. We giggled and laughed and the visit was completed as the notes floated through the air. I can still hear them today.
The last goodbyes were heard; hugs and plans for the next time echoed as we all hopped in our cars to make our way back home. I can close my eyes today and remember my grandparents seated on the old front porch. They waved as we drove away, sad in a sweet way, as those days are gone forever, but the love lives on and on.
By this time, I had pushed the memories of poor Bertha out of my mind. Besides, none of those chickens liked me anyway. I knew because the birds chased and pecked me when I wandered too close to their nest — but I could forget that, too, until the next time.
Easter Sunday dinner with family — more than a tradition; it was a time to celebrate the Risen Savior. Today, I continue to thank God for my Christian family.
I wish you all a Happy Easter, dear friends.
Christ the Lord is Risen Today (in part) —Charles Wesley, 1739
Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns and earth reply, Alleluia
Anne B. McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her web site at www.annemckee.net.