Everything and Nothing: The best dessert

Aïda Rogers

Posted Feb. 10, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

For me and many others, Sundays were always the same. There was always church, followed by a big meal, followed by a long nap. These rituals marked the end of a week and the beginning of the next. And certain images abide. 

There we are, the six of us – seven with my grandmother – squeezed like sausages into the left front pew of the church my great-grandfather, a farmer, helped build about 120 years ago. Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church, outside Lexington’s town limits, was sparsely attended by a few clannish families, and, in my memory, a lot of men with bald heads. At one time my Sunday School class had four members, including the teacher. Still, the church carried on. And ever faithful, so did we. 

Preachers came and went, and one went pretty dramatically every Sunday. He’d stride rapidly and purposefully from the pulpit down the aisle and out the door as we were singing the final hymn. He had another church to get to. Our destination was home.       

Sundays were quiet. Businesses weren’t open and you dare not blow your horn or cut your grass – it wouldn’t have occurred to you. But Sunday dinner, around our Formica table in our 1961 ranch house, was a celebratory event. The food was delicious and mountainous, proof of our mother’s talent and skill. An Armenian from Iraq, she’d mastered many Southern dishes. She knew to plop a blob of mayo on Jell-O and sliced tomatoes, and to drop a strip or two of bacon in a pot of string beans. We’d talk a lot about pretty much nothing, and the eating went into the seconds and thirds. There was always dessert, always homemade. 

Our technology was the oven, stove, refrigerator, and in the summers, the AC window unit, blowing cold air behind my father’s chair. If it was really hot, he’d be in his undershirt, a rarity.  

Those Sunday dinners became rare, too, as the family grew up and out. These days, my brother and I will join our parents for Wednesday lunch, an entirely different gastronomical experience. I’ll drive through Rush’s – “Fabulous Food Fast!” – for two junior barbecue baskets and three chili dogs (two without onions), for the four of us. We’ll share the fries, squirting ketchup on napkins. Water has replaced sweet iced tea; Mom always drinks hers from her light blue plastic cup. Then there’s apple pie or ice cream sandwiches from Publix, and coffee from the new coffee maker she’s learning to operate. We always talk about how good it is. Daddy always makes sure to say the barbecue is “mustard-based.” I always say the ice cream sandwich is “the perfect food.” Mom always saves the leftover coffee to pour over vanilla ice cream that night. She always says it’s the best dessert.  

Except for the 20 minutes spent on the different ways Daddy could avoid traffic getting to an event 15 minutes away, our conversations are as unessential as ever. I did pull out my cell phone to find out, once and for all, where that earthen dam is in Russia we in Lexington knew was bigger than ours on Lake Murray (it’s in Ukraine). But technology, for the most part, is limited to the coffee maker.    

So what’s the point of this story? There isn’t one. Not unless you count 60-some years of gathering with your family, at home around a table, always with dessert.   

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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