When was the last
time you went to a dinner-on-the-grounds? If you're like me, it has been too long.
Sadly, dinners-on-the-ground are traditions wečre seeing less and less in
East Texas. Theyčre going the way of automobile hubcaps and refillable ink pens.
As a boy in East Texas, I grew up with a dinner-on-the-grounds at Muse Missionary
Baptist Church at Hickory Grove in rural Anderson County. Each May, the Bowmans
and other families whose ancestors had been a part of the church for decades gathered
in the church for a memorial service to those buried across the road in Muse Cemetery.
Following hymns and a sermon, we poured out of the church and clustered beneath
the tall oaks surrounding the church.
On permanent wooden tables built
from scrap lumber, the women laid out a meal that would have fed the population
Before us were blackeyed peas, new potatoes, corn on the cob,
sliced tomatoes, green beans with little onions, turnip greens, fried chicken,
chicken and dumplings, blackberry and peach cobblers, pecan pies, banana puddings,
homemade bread, and anything else you could imagine. Gallon jars of ice tea stood
as gleaming sentinels on one end of a table.
Men, women and children
piled their plates with food and retreated to tree shades, the porch of the church
and pickup beds to eat.
It was an annual feast we remembered for a year
-- and a place where we often found rare and out-of-season delicacies. When my
two boys reached their teens, they learned that Muse Memorial Day was the only
time outside hunting season where they could enjoy freshly-killed game.
One year a Muse women turned up with a plate of fried venison. As my boys filled
their plates, the cook boasted; "You boys are gonna enjoy that fresh venison.
My husband killed it yesterday morning in our corn field." I silently hoped
that a game warden didn't belong to the church.
Once the dinner was over,
the men sat around smoking or chewing their tobacco and discussing their jobs,
the government, and the performance of their trucks. The women cleaned off the
tables, packed up the leftovers and dishes, and strolled to the cemetery to put
fresh flowers on the graves of their deceased.
At this point in other churchyards, cemetery workings were often a part of the
day's agenda. Weeds were pulled, tombstones were straightened, and the fence was
For some reason, cemetery workings were seldom a part of the Muse
Memorial Day. Another day had been assigned for this job or it had been contracted
out to a church handyman who lived nearby.
still held in some East Texas communities, but they are seldom held outside under
God's blue sky. Like the one at Muse, they are today served inside air-conditioned
church activity rooms.
The meals have also changed. The fried chicken
is likely to come from the Colonel, pies are bought at the grocery store, and
homemade bread is now as scarce as venison.
Some of todayčs cooks have
also wandered into dangerous territory with their meals. At a dinner-on-the-ground
near Lufkin, I found plates of quiche and hors dčouevres.
But at Muse
-- the home of my ancestors -- I take comfort in the assurance that no country
woman in her right mind will ever serve hors dčouevres to the men of Anderson
Oct. 6-12, 2002 column
Published with permission
(Bob Bowman is a former
president of the East Texas Historical Association and the author of 28 books
on East Texas history and folklore. He lives in Lufkin.)