Sunday School Celebration©

Averyell A. Kessler

For some mystifying reason, my father agreed to host a spring open house for his Sunday School class.  Mama said nothing but stared at him as if he was Vlad the Impaler. The next day she began a forced march cleaning gig, which included dusting furniture (all of it), polishing floors, scrubbing toilets and shining up every scrap of silver in the house. For weeks, I was not allowed to touch anything, at any time, ever. We lived a monkish existence, eating tv dinners, hiding the mail, and tossing newspapers before I’d had a chance to read Dick Tracy.

I was familiar with Daddy’s Sunday School class. It met in the cavernous fellowship hall every Sunday morning before church. Coffee and cookies were featured. When the class ended and the doors swung open, I scurried in to see if any leftover cookies were available. Inside the Hall, the air smelled like stale coffee, Old Spice, and itchy folks who’d endured metal folding chairs for over an hour.  But I plowed ahead, stemming the tide of desperate men streaming outside for a breath of fresh air, a surreptitious cigarette, or a bathroom break. Soon, they’d all be coming to our house.

“How many?” Mama asked.

“About a hundred,” Daddy answered. “Wives too.”

“So, we’re talking two hundred people?”

“More or less,” he said, then fled into the garage.                    

We’d been living in Avery Gardens for about six months. The azaleas were beginning to bud, so Mama decided to make this a festive event. She opened her copy of The Joy of Cooking (1950 edition) to see what Madams Rombauer, Becker and Becker suggested. She also checked out Better Homes and Gardens and Betty Crocker. Back in the day, no social gathering in Jackson was worth its salt (or worth its petit fours) without punch. A large punch bowl and a collection of glass cups were de rigueur.  The dining room table would be loaded with Jordan almonds, roasted nuts, pimento cheese or tomato and cucumber tea sandwiches, ham biscuits, mandatory petit fours, and a cake of some sort. However, the punch bowl was the main attraction.  Mama honed in on sparkling peach nectar punch, unique in Jackson’s tea party circles. It was simple enough, Ginger Ale, powdered sugar, a touch of lemon juice, and peach nectar. Mama planned to jazz it up by tossing in a sprinkling of fresh peaches and sliced strawberries.

On party day, the sky was sparkling and the sun out in full force, perfect for parking across the pond and strolling to our house. Inside, we stood ready, jobs assigned and dressed in Sunday best. Mama was in charge on the food, Daddy supervised the punch bowl while I opened the front door and smiled. Promptly at two, the doorbell rang. Bing,bong.  As we expected, Rev. Glum (my sobriquet for the preacher) arrived first, with his wife, Hallie, following behind. He was as amusing as a brick wall. Nevertheless, Mama welcomed him and Hallie graciously, drawing them into the dining room and giving them the first sample of her culinary masterpieces and a brimming cup of punch.

“This is wonderful punch, Paula,” Rev. Glum said, “Don’t think I’ve had anything this refreshing in quite a while.”

Mama smiled. Mrs. Glum drained her cup rapidly and asked for another. “I hope you’ll share the recipe, Paula,” she said.   “I’d like to use this at the church.”

 The doorbell rang again, and our visitors poured in. Thirty minutes passed.  Mama had already replenished the food table twice and the punch bowl was heading for its third reincarnation. Everyone was laughing and talking, even Rev Glum, whose face was especially joyful. Red, but joyful. AlSuddenly, the party was a raging success.

“This is a wonderful occasion,” Mrs. Glum said, tugging at Mama’s sleeve.   

“Thank you, Hallie,” Mama replied. “I’m so glad you’re having fun.”

 “Yes, fun,” she giggled, as if greeting a new concept. “You’ll have to invite us every year, my dear.”

“Paula,” my father said, interrupting their conversation. “I need some help in the kitchen, the peach nectar is running low.”

“Excuse me, Hallie,” Mama said.

“Don’t let the punch run low,” Hallie called out as Mama walked toward the kitchen. The party continued with unusual gaiety. The church organist took the bench behind our well-tuned baby grand and began pumping out a series of jaunty Broadway tunes.

“What’s wrong Howard?” Mama asked in the kitchen. My father was emptying another quart of Ginger Ale into a silver pitcher, stirring it was a long-handled spoon.

“We’re almost out of peach nectar,” he said. “Do we have more?”

“There’s another case in the garage. How much have you used?” she asked.

“Three bottles,” Daddy replied, holding up an empty with an elaborate label.”

“Bottles?” Mama’s face clouded. “Peach nectar comes in cans. What have you done?”

“I followed the recipe, just like you said. A quart of ginger Ale and a cup of peach nectar.”

 “Oh no!” Mama replied. “You’ve used Peach brandy! They’ll all be rip roaring drunk before the party is over.”

“Well,” Daddy laughed. “They seem to be having a good time.” Raucous laughter seeped into the kitchen, followed by Hallie’s solo version of The Chattanooga Choo Choo. An impromptu barber shop quartet formed and launched into “Has Anybody Seen My Gal,” with Rev Glum singing lead.

 “I guess it’s too late now, Mama said.  “I’ll make coffee, lots of coffee.”

“Hurry, Paula,” Daddy said, as he peeked into the living room. “They’re starting to do the bunny hop.” 

Thankfully, everyone left at four o’clock, just in time for a nap. No one was arrested, and the party ended without incident. The only problem arose when Hallie called for the punch recipe. Mama gave her the Betty Crocker version, and she served it at church functions frequently. But it was never quite as good.

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