"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?
Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear?
Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song,
those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another
and bed down under the stars?
Have they vanished along with footpaths,
with grasslands and clearings, with nature?" ~ Milan Kundera
I have taken on too many projects at the present time, and I am feeling the dizzying effects of a whirlwind life. I am desirous of slowness, ambling, loafing, wandering shiftlessly. As a result, I have been thinking about the words "supper" and "dinner" quite a bit these last few weeks. People don't use the word "supper" much any more to denote the evening meal. I still use it quite often. I first got to thinking about it when my grandson was visiting. He's 4 1/2, and when I asked him what he wanted for supper, he wasn't quite sure what I was referring to.
We always said "supper" when I was young. This was to distinguish it from the noon meal on Sundays which we called "Sunday dinner." I don't remember that we ever really had the traditional-after-church-large-meal that was called dinner, but I know that's where this distinction came from. It seems to me that something has been lost as "supper" has gone out of style.
When I drive in the afternoons or in the summer down the streets of the subdivision in which I live, I am struck again and again with how empty they are. There are no children playing in their yards, riding their bikes, sitting under trees throwing pine cones at each other, walking along the side of the road talking . . . no children to be seen anywhere. Day after day. I know what they say: it's the video games, the tv, the computer that keep them inside. I also know that the homework load these days is burdensome. And I know, too, that fear of myriad things, mostly of strangers, keeps them inside as well. It has become a dangerous world. I realize this. Yet, somehow the fact that the children are inside and not out in the wide world perpetuates the danger, I think. I'm not naive enough to think if more children played outside the world would be safe, but our neighborhood would be different. It would be alive. Fear has a tougher time taking root in a place overrun with childhood.
The neighborhoods in which I grew up were well-inhabited with children. With us. We played kickball, Red Rover Red Rover, tag-freeze, tv, cartoon, and other silly forms of the game, hide and seek. We raced our bikes, played make believe - Planet of the Apes, The Yankees Are Coming. Fallen trees became mansions and palaces. Willow trees were curtains or veils. We gathered pokeberries, crushed them into bottles, and tried to market them as inks or paint, succeeding only in staining our clothes. We gently plucked honeysuckle and sipped the nectar that beaded at the end of the stem. We carved paths through the woods around the wild perimeter of the neighborhood, our own private kingdom. We splashed in Beaverdam Creek, watching the water striders skate across the surface, were scolded for coming home with our shoes covered in mud.
There were slow, quiet moments, too. We sat in yards that were not ours, making whistles out of the thick blades of bermuda grass, lying on our backs watching the clouds scuttle overhead. Front porches were prime real estate for sitting on railings, talking about how "Mrs. Jones hid that dog in the coat closet today and wasn't that the coolest thing ever and I'm going to be a third grade teacher just like Mrs. Jones." Or we'd try to figure out mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and the boys we had crushes on. Talking late into the evening, until either the mosquitoes or the chill night air drove us inside.
We always had to be called in for supper, though. Parents would come to their front doors, stand on the porches, cup their hands around their mouths and holler "Supper's ready." Beans and franks. Pork chops and Stove Top Stuffing. Stuffed green peppers that I could barely get down. Or spaghetti that I could have eaten every night. All of us children showing up at the supper table with skinned or dirty knees, grubby pants, hands sticky with pine resin or stained with pokeberry, barefeet black and calloused.
These weren't idyllic times. I remember tears, anger, divorces, grief and loss, along with the more mundane childhood dramas. But something has been lost along with supper time. I am sorry to have it gone. I don't know that we can ever get it back again. The world is a different place. We are a different kind of people living in it. I suppose we have to be. But I wonder if it's not the same thing as the looping connection between fear of strangers and streets empty of childhood. Do we no longer gather for the pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy for the Sunday dinner, no longer call the children in for supper, because the world moves so fast? Or does the world move so fast because we don't have anyone to call inside for supper?
"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?
Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear?"