Sunday dinner

Bill-newby L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

A sodden grey Sunday is matchless for a roast beef dinner.  I recall a visit with my undergraduate friend Fred Jones (that was his real name) to his parents’ place for Sunday dinner.  It was a blustery autumn day near the beginning of term when the trees were at perpetual risk of losing their leaves.  Fred’s parents lived in an old part of Toronto in a three-storey red brick townhouse covered with ivy.  As my friend and I ascended the stone steps and passed through the front oaken door the wafts of appetizing aromas from the kitchen welcomed us into the muffled drawing room.  There the master and mistress of the household were at their ritual stations in preparation for what was unquestionably the practiced ceremony of Sunday dinner.

Mrs. Jones, sporting a decorative frilly white apron, flitted between the kitchen and the drawing room to check the meal preparation and to attend to the hors d’oeuvres and drinks.  We boys were permitted a beer or sherry.  Mr. Jones wore a nondescript suit and stood bolt upright next to the black grand piano where he had positioned his martini. As he stood, he smoked, holding his cigarette from the bottom with the first two fingers and thumb of his right hand, drawing on the cigarette, inhaling deeply, removing the cigarette as though it were a small torpedo by rotating his arm slightly downward then puffing the evidence of his  industry into the air before him where he briefly marvelled at it. Only then did he figure to address us boys to enquire after our health and the weather.

Our lubricated conversation delighted Fred’s parents as we recounted the details of university, at least as much as we thought prudent to share with them.  I played the piano, a Bourrée by Bach.  The wind outside blew against the Georgian-style leaded windows. The fireplace sparked and blazed its burning logs.  The firelight shimmered in the room and a coziness descended upon us.  We sank more deeply into the cushioned arm chairs.

Mrs. Jones, having dipped into the kitchen one last time, reappeared and called us – now almost lethargic – to table in the dining room.  The dark oak table was laid with silverware, white linen napkins and cut crystal wine glasses.  Mr. Jones assumed the head of the table, Mrs. Jones the other.  Fred and I completed the sides.  We were asked to give the blessing which was rendered in Latin in keeping with our schoolboy tradition (“Pro hic et omnibus tuis beneficios …”).  Dinner consisted of a standing rib  roast (which Mr. Jones stood to carve), horseradish, mashed potatoes, gravy, Brussel sprouts and Yorkshire pudding. There were of course “seconds”.  When asking his wife if she cared for more, Mr. Jones politely enquired, “Have you had enough, darling?” to which she placidly replied, “Yes thank-you, dear!”  Fred and I were less reluctant but we nonetheless maintained more than a passing interest in the English trifle that followed.

Back to the drawing room after dinner.  The fireplace had subsided to a mere glow.  It was by now dark outside and we could no longer see beyond the windows which reflected the drawing room lights.  The conversation touched upon recent political matters, music and the highlights of previous travels.  The evening was becoming somnolent.  Fred and I were anxious to return to residence to congregate with our cronies.  We may even have had some studies to complete before the beginning of the week.  Our Sunday interlude was concluded.  Fred and I regained the cool evening air to return to the university campus leaving behind the warmth of family and home.