There’s hungry and then there’s waiting-for-your-father-to-say-the-blessing-over-dinner-hungry.
I grew up in a family that said grace before every meal – even breakfast. My father usually led the family prayer and he was from Arkansas. There’s a reason they call it a Southern drawl.
Basically, it means what most of us say in one or two syllables becomes three or four when pronounced by someone from the South. Also, my parents were Pentecostal and supported many missionaries. Support included mentioning them by name in prayer at every opportunity – often before a meal.
While our Cream of Wheat solidified, our PBJ sandwiches calcified and our meatloaf cooled, my father prayed.
Often, we kids were expected to pick up the mantle. My brother Jon famously balked when asked to pray over dinner. At age 3, he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled.
“I payed (prayed) at noon!”
This became an oft-used mantra when my siblings and I were expected to offer the blessing. It rarely held sway.
When Derek and I raised our four sons, we rarely breakfasted or lunched together, but family dinner was sacrosanct and included saying grace.
We held hands and took turns saying the prayer, which almost always ended with “and bless the hands that prepared it.”
Those hands were always mine and whoever prayed that evening often followed their father’s example and lifted my hand to their lips and kissed it. It’s one of the sweetest memories of all my boys at the table.
My sister reminded me that our brothers were less sweet and often got in trouble for amending that phrase to “Bless the hands that repaired it.”
Also, less sweet were the prayers my boys brought home from church camp.
Alex returned after one excursion and prayed, “Thanks for the meat. Now let’s eat!”
I was unimpressed.
His brother Zach upped (or downed?) the ante the following year, by bellowing “Jeeesuus! AMEN!”
I asked Facebook friends to recall blessings they said before meals.
Mary Roy’s family topped my dad’s invocation frequency.
“As a child, we would invite Jesus to our table to begin with prayer, then ended our meals with, ‘Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for he is good and his mercy endureth forever! Amen.’ We were a two-prayer-a-meal family.”
Joe Butler’s family was more concise: “God’s neat, let’s eat.”
When Ellen Peters’ kids were young they said a traditional blessing. “Bless us, O Lord. And these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Gene Brake’s less-reverent blessing didn’t amuse his grandmother: “Good bread, good meat, good gosh, let’s eat!”
Nina Culver said when her family was feeling goofy they’d pray, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.”
My sister reminded me our oldest brother David finished that prayer with a rousing, “Yay! God!”
That seems tame compared to Cecile Charles’ dad. He mortified her mom when company came to dinner and he prayed, “Bless the meat, damn the skin, pin back your ears and cram it in!”
Norma Weber’s family prayer focused on counting blessings. “There’s a roof up above me. I’ve a good place to sleep, there’s food on my table and shoes on my feet. You gave me your love, Lord and a fine family. Thank you, Lord, for your blessings on me.”
And when a teenage Miriam Robbins worked summers at the Salvation Army Camp Gifford at Deer Lake, they sang this grace: “Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we may live to love and serve but thee.”
The simple act of pausing to express thanks before a meal may seem antiquated, but it still has value to me. In a world where many families eat in front of the television or with their eyes glued to their phones, something precious, perhaps sacred is lost.
Recently, Derek, Sam and I enjoyed a lovely dinner on our deck and I was reminded of an older prayer.
“For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”
That evening, my eyes filled with tears. However slowly my father prayed, his heart was pointed in the right direction – gratitude. No matter the state of the world, if you have food on your table and people you love to share it with, there is always, always something to be thankful for.
Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide.