When my great-grandmother Little Mama died, so did her Sunday dinners.
After church services—which, when I was a kid in Minneapolis, rivaled one-day music festivals without the fresh air, fried candy bars, or pop music—we’d gather and eat together as a family. Little Mama made it mandatory for all eight of her children to attend. Then her eight children made it mandatory for their children to attend. Then their children made it mandatory for their children to attend.
Editor’s note: Leslie Lamar Parker died on May 11, 2020, after a two-week battle with Covid-19. He was 31 years old.
His wife, Whitney Parker, pictured in the above photo with the couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Zuri, and then pregnant with son, Chance, wrote his author biography for The Counter.
We would pack ourselves into Little Mama’s three-bedroom townhouse on 84 1/2 Avenue, North, and eat soul food. I’d eat macaroni and cheese, collard greens, yams, cornbread, potato salad, fried chicken, and as much cake as I could smuggle to the kids’ table.
Before I could experience Sunday dinners as an adult, Little Mama died. Her funeral repast was the last time my whole extended family gathered for something resembling a Sunday dinner. Then we went our separate ways.
I almost revived those dinners with my own family. But when I proposed a supper without technology, they unionized and planned a walkout. Most nights, we eat separately while on our phones, streaming the latest Netflix documentary about the life of an eccentric person who should have participated in more Sunday dinners. (Honestly, I blame Carole Baskin for keeping us away from the family table.)
The virus forced distance between us, but it also made us closer.
Covid-19 forced us all to shelter in place and spend more time together. One Sunday last month, I sat in my dining room for the first time and had my own family dinner as an adult. My wife prepared prime rib, green beans, and mashed potatoes. She paired the meal with red wine and sparkling apple cider for the kids, who sat with us at the adult table. It has been the talk of the house ever since. Everybody says they are eager for another Sunday dinner.
This is how I’ll choose to remember Covid-19: the virus forced distance between us, but it also made us closer. I won’t recall how unforgiving the virus was to people like me. I won’t talk about how scared I was for my wife, who has severe asthma. If I’m lucky, I won’t have to say goodbye to somebody close to me. Instead, I’ll remember the conversations we had during our Sunday dinner. I’ll remember mixing the bitter red wine with the sparkling cider. I’ll remember the large piece of prime rib. And I’ll remember the mountain of green beans I had to eat before reaching for another piece of meat.
Now that I think about it, maybe I am still sitting at that kid’s table in Little Mama’s three-bedroom townhouse on 84 1/2 Avenue, North. Maybe I’m still eating that same Sunday dinner, after all.