What Not To Talk About At The Dinner Table

What Not To Talk About At The Dinner Table
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The older woman in this picture is my great aunt Alma Underwood Laird. She was sort of shy, a wonderful woman and was what was called at the time a "maiden spinster." In this picture she is only 41 years old, but I always thought she was much older.
When women in the family talked about Aunt Alma, they often would finish a comment with "Bless her heart." She had the biggest feet I have ever seen: once at my grandmother's house on the bay, she took off her shoes and waded in the water with us. I said to my mom that it looked like a dinosaur had been walking down the beach, but my mom told me to be quiet that instant so I didn't say much more. But they were huge, you could have skied on them.

This picture is from Christmas Dinner in 1962 when we lived in Dothan. The Christmas tree as well as the overly realistic folding-cardboard Christmas mantle I insisted that we buy from Elmore's Department Store in the back of the picture gives it away.

At the table you see my sister Sara Hitchcock Beck, our mother Pat Laird Hitchcock, mother's aunt, Alma Underwood Laird wearing the lovely Harlequin glasses, me, then brother Laird Hitchcock is the child in the chair.

Those who remember my Daddy know that he was talented in so many areas, one of which was that special gift of small talk and table conversation. He had that wonderful ability to be able to talk to anyone, literally anyone, on their level and about their interests and make them comfortable in our home.

Taking his place at the head of the table, Daddy said the blessing, and then we started serving plates. As my mom was passing the deviled eggs to Aunt Alma, Daddy broached the meal's conversation.

"Well Aunt Alma, you are looking well (I didn't think so...she was only 41 in this picture but I kept my mouth shut). How have you been?"

Aunt Alma spoke with a typical small-town Florida drawl.

"Well Billy, (she always called Daddy Billy), to be perfectly honest, my bowels haven't moved in four days." I sensed this was more perfectly honest talk than Daddy was prepared for at the that moment.

Dead silence....well over two minutes...a long time for silence of any kind in our house.

You need to know that my Daddy rarely swore. I can only remember a couple of times he actually used swear words....he would modify them a little bit.

"Well Golly-Damn Alma, Golly-Damn."

At the time that was the worst thing I had ever heard my Daddy say and I was highly amused. My laughter was cut short by a glare from my mother that could have taken the head off of a chicken. The rest of the meal was unrelieved with conversation, other than "pass the butter, turkey, salt, peas" or whatever was needed.

This is the one and only time I ever saw my Daddy speechless with no place to take the conversation. Bless his heart.

One other thing you need to know about Aunt Alma: she was so kind and good to me and all of the other cousins and kids...and played a helluva game of kickball. I guess it was the size of those feet. She could kick a ball for miles.

I suspect she secretly longed for children of her own.

She died a few years after this picture was taken, at the young age of 48. A heart attack, while picking figs in her garden on a blisteringly hot August morning in West Bay.

It is doubtful that she even knew what hit her. There was a Kool-100 cigarette on the ground next to her that had burned all the way down to the filter tip. She was lying right next to one of her huge fig trees, heavily-laden with fruit that she didn't get to pick.

The day that she died, she had planned a trip, a trip to take all of us kids for hamburgers and then go to Phillips Inlet, FL to see the porpoises. We didn't go.

Today, when I cross the bridge at the Inlet, I get a lump in my throat thinking of Aunt Alma and the trip that didn't happen. And when the turkey is passed at any holiday meal, I remember my Daddy, speechless for once in his life and I have to tell you that makes me smile.

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