Growing up, Mama had a system and it worked to bring peace and stability to our large and growing family. Nearly every day when the clock rolled around to 4 pm, Mama would have us all start getting ready for the evening. We each cleaned up our jurisdiction, creating a neat environment so our minds were subconsciously more relaxed. Once things were in order, dinner was started. Mama always had dinner planned ahead of time so there was no last-minute stress. Starting at a young age we helped to cook a good, healthy meal and sometimes a nice dessert. It was the best meal of our day. It made the house smell good, cheering our senses—provided, of course, we didn't burn it as apprentices in the kitchen are prone to do. Then shouts of "Daddy's home!" would echo through the house, and the young kiddos would all come running as fast as their little legs could carry them to hug Dad, while the older kids more calmly greeted our beloved father. Somehow this was a moment we all treasured. We could all tell that Mama was delighted to see Daddy too. We'd roll our eyes and turn our embarrassed heads to avoid the sight of their passionate smooching, but we all were secretly glad that they loved each other so much. Dad was and still is the kindest soul, and we were naturally pleased to have him home again. His presence made the family feel complete. Dad would go change out of his business attire to his farm-boy clothes and join us for supper.
Supper was simple on weeknights. Dad always started our meal by thanking the good Lord for what we were about to eat. Nothing smells better than fresh cornbread still hot in the cast iron skillet, so it was always the first on everyone’s plate, then a large helping of pink-eye-purple-hull peas and, of course, sliced tomatoes picked straight from our garden earlier in the day. The fried venison sausage, heavy with the savory flavor of sage, was my favorite part of our regular country dinner. We country bumpkins do know how to serve up a fine meal.
We always loved to hear Dad tell us about his day in the office. While we ate he would tell us of fixing crashed servers, of computers refusing to function in a normal capacity, then trying to find someone’s forgotten password, and all the other odd issues he had to figure out. We knew he took his responsibility very seriously because he had to keep the whole hospital electronic system running smoothly. Lest you think that sounds like he was bragging, I'll add that he'd never make himself look like the hero although we all knew he really was. He just acted like he was an ordinary guy, but we all knew he was a genius. How else could he figure out so many complicated issues?
After we were satisfied with what he had been doing at work, we all would excitedly tell him of our days of work, school, and adventures around the farm. Everyone that comes from a big family knows that during most meals there is a crash, and our family sure had this down to a T. Just like clockwork, one of us kids would inevitably tip over a glass of water, causing half the occupants of the large table to evacuate at lightening speed amid yells of warning to avoid the coming flood. Someone would grab a towel, and another would refill the cup. We all came back to the table laughing, especially if someone happened to get a lap full of terribly cold water. It was always hilarious. I have heard of families having stress when kids spill or break something, but not at our house.
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After supper, Mom would say: "Alright everybody! Do your kitchen chores, then we can all relax and read!" She would go to sit in the living room near Dad and care for the baby (there are ten of us, so there was always a baby) while all of us older kids were deployed to do the kitchen chores. Mom loved order and after some trial and error, had become an excellent delegator and manager. Each part of cleaning the kitchen was the responsibility of one of us children and was typed on to the child's daily list of duties. We were trained to do the job well by mom or an older sibling who had previously been assigned that chore. Within twenty minutes or less, the whole kitchen would be nearly spotless. None of us ever had too much work to do. Now I am a young mama so I can really appreciate this as I look back to my childhood. Mama’s efficiency was and still is remarkable.
And then came the best time of the day. Our bellies being full, work done, a clean peaceful environment, and the sameness of life gave us a sense that everything was just as it should be. We'd gather our artwork or crochet or sewing to keep our hands busy as we listened to God’s Word being read. Each of us kids would find a place on the couch or a chair and spread blankets on the floor with toys and books for the toddlers. Silence would fall in anticipation. And then Dad would reach for his large, leather-covered Bible and begin to read. His voice was neither dull nor forceful. It was more of a sound that would remind one of a swiftly flowing river. So serene, yet with such power that rocks were worn smooth by its strength. Somehow, Mama had this incredible ability too. Dad read the tales of old and made the points clear, so that we could easily understand the reason for it being recorded in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible was very dear to us, because of how beautifully its truths were told. Belief in the unseen yet wonderful God was deemed wise by our young minds, and we began to love our Savior.
After a chapter or two, Dad would gently lay the Bible aside and would pray. Sometimes just him, sometimes all of us. Then Mama would pick up another book. She would ask where we had left off and there would be a noisy moment as everyone spoke at once. Then she'd smile at our excitement, say for us to quiet down, and she'd commence the story.
Ever so suddenly and without our notice amid their outstanding performance, we were no longer in the cool, quiet living room of a home in southern Mississippi. No, we were far, far away galloping on bare horseback across the western prairies, the wind and sun making our hair fly behind us. Or we would be trapped deep within the vault of King Solomon's mines, trying not to panic as we thought the only way out had just been made inaccessible by a twenty- to thirty-ton stone door. Another time we seemed to be staring with pride at the word "Terrific" neatly woven into a spider's web to spare the life of her friend.
We did not even know we were learning to love books or to love God; it simply came naturally as we listened in awe to the tales read with such pure perfection. Each person in the stories had a different voice. I can still remember some of them vividly. Mama and Daddy paid attention to the detail of the person's character and changed the voice accordingly. One chapter finished, we would beg in chorus for another. Many a night we passed the bedtime hour by accident, for we were all so enthralled by the story. Finally, though, one of the parents would notice the time and we all would hustle off to bed, wishing for tomorrow evening to come quickly so we might resume the adventure.
Maybe you read my story and think it could never be like this in your household. Never say never! When the Internet crashes or the power grid has been attacked, don’t be sad—rejoice!
And by the light of an oil lamp, start reading aloud.