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May 16, 2024

Summertime at the Table

The summer slow-down is one of my favorite times of year.  The spring rains move on and the temperature creeps up.  May is always so hectic and then somehow the world just patiently winds down.  I can hear myself think, my shoulders move back down where they belong, and suddenly, spring has become summer.

Despite my family’s determined effort to live on nothing but popsicles and watermelon, I still set the table for at least one meal every day.  Some days it’s the patio table for cold leftovers and salad, others we come all the way inside for air conditioning and conversation that won’t be drowned out by cicadas. We’re often joined by family visiting on summer vacation, and usually we have one or two friends who came by to visit and haven’t found a reason to go home just yet.  Summer meals are like that.  

I spent a lot of every summer at my grandparents’ house.  They lived less than a mile down a country road on a working ranch.  My Grandma always set a “spread” for dinner- a meal that started by 1:00 pm.  That spread always magically sized itself to provide plenty, no matter how many folks happened to be at her house that day.  Fresh vegetables from her garden would continue to arrive on the table, and a gaggle of aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors would sit down to a feast.  I was sure the secret to the biblical loaves and fishes also resided somewhere in her pantry.

These wonders were always presented on her humble everyday china, multiple patterns gifted to her at different points in her life by generous friends and family, enough to feed an army.  Corning casseroles, the perennial kitchen workhorses, kept beans, potatoes, and stewed vegetables piping hot.  Her cut glass relish dish sat in its assigned spot loaded with a rainbow of pickles, and at least one salad involved whipped topping or jello (or both).  I so envied the large glasses, gleaming with sweat, that held endless sweet tea.  Only adults were allowed tea at my grandma’s table.  We kids got glass bottles of Dr. Pepper or 7-Up.  

The food and family weren’t all that different from a big holiday like Christmas, but the feeling was.  We laughed louder in the summer and “cut up” more.  I believe it was the spontaneity of it.  The farrier who’d stop to replace a horseshoe or the veterinarian who’d stop to eat before his next appointment, the neighbor who walked over with errant mail, or the visiting pastor’s wife sat side by side with the parents and grandparents I saw every day, and it was a reminder of two things: how much world lay beyond my family and how small that world was at the same time.

Decades later, I have lived in other cities, from very big to even smaller.  I’ve found that family and community are found where they are nourished.  And that’s why I take the time to set the table at least once a day, even on the hottest day of August when I cannot wait one more minute for those kids to get back to school.  

I don’t have enough of my casual china to feed an army, but I do have a simple, cheerful pattern that’s been with me for years.  Those plates and bowls hold years of new recipes and old family favorites, bad knock-knock jokes and conversations that are engraved on my heart.  Each time we gather around the table is a new opportunity for more.  The kids chatter with a friend who brought over water pistols for a backyard battle, or my neighbor stops by and can’t say no to the smell of our dinner coming off the grill.  I hear my Grandma in my own voice when I say, “There’s more than enough!  Fix you a plate!”  And we all sit down for a break from the sun, a cold drink, and something delicious and comforting. View our Summer Lookbook here:

What are you favorite summer mealtime memories?  Did you grow up with traditions around the table at this time of year?