First Sunday: Serving up New Family Traditions
My two-year-old grandson Harris grabbed the plastic creamer with snake-strike speed and re-decorated our corner of the Altoona Family Restaurant with one squeeze. White liquid dripped from the window shades, the table top, and the back of an elderly man’s shirt in the next booth. Sorry sir, we said. His smile said, “It’s okay. Been there.”
A few months earlier, in a different restaurant, grandsons Parker and Wesley dove into their pancakes smothered with whipped cream and sprinkles. The aftermath made for a colorful, volcanic diorama – and also a new brand of hair gel. We adults present in both cases did a little scolding but mostly laughed behind our hands.
These messy moments are part a new family tradition I created with my wife Jayne called “First Sunday.” When our children were younger, all six of us would sit around the dining table most evenings, scolding and laughing and everything in between. At the time, those moments seemed so ordinary. Looking back, I realize how special they were. I miss them. The kids got older and left home for college and grown-up life. To re-create those family-centered mealtime memories, First Sunday began. If any of our kids happen to be in the Eau Claire area the first Sunday of each month, we take them out for breakfast. And we’ve been doing that now for several years, treating them along with their friends, significant others, and, for the last six years, their own kids.
We hit many of the local restaurants for sit-down breakfasts – Altoona Family Restaurant, Galloway Grill, Grand Avenue Café, Mom’s Kitchen, Norske Nook, Randy’s, The Nucleus …
We have breakfast at Perkins a lot. It’s in our neighborhood, and they have the best morning wait staff. They’ve been serving our family for years. They automatically set down a pot of coffee for me and a diet coke in front of Jayne without either one of us uttering a word.
On the other hand, heading up to the Bohemian Ovens in Bloomer makes for a nice country drive. They have the best pancakes. Order the oatmeal pancake. Just one. Trust me. Size of a catcher’s mitt.
First Sunday is now so ingrained in our family it feels like it’s been around for generations. My own parents didn’t make a special connection to Sunday meals. Most of the traditions they carried on from previous generations revolved around holidays and traveling. One tradition was to rent different cabins in northern Wisconsin for two weeks at a time. I remember the long drives as we escaped the Chicago suburbs each year. This went on for several years until my father, brother, and I built a cabin near Rhinelander, and 40 years later, new cabin traditions carry on. One of those traditions includes taking guests to the Sportsman’s Café (even if it doesn’t fall on First Sunday) to see their stuffed raccoon head, mounted to one side of a support post, its tail nailed to the other.
Hunting is a big family tradition for several of my friends. They tell me the most important aspect of this tradition is not the actual hunting. Instead, it’s the companionship and bonding. And that’s what First Sunday is to me and Jayne. It’s not just about the food.
Perhaps our own children will continue First Sunday. Maybe not. I know they’ve begun their own family traditions. For example, when Wesley was born, his mother took pictures of him head-to-head with his older brother Parker on a regular basis to record their growth. They continue to take these pictures today. It seems like a little tradition but, oh, how big it is to us grandparents.
Well, the next First Sunday will be here before you know it. We usually head out around 8:30am, before the church crowd lets out. Not sure where we’ll go yet next month, but if you’re in the area (and somehow connected to one of my kids), breakfast is on us.
Rob Reid teaches children’s and young adult literature classes for the Education Studies department (soon to celebrate their 100th year in existence) at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He's a former children’s librarian and the author of numerous books on literature for children and adolescents. Rob and his wife Jayne will soon celebrate their 30th year as Chippewa Valley residents. Rob is the father of four grown up children and grandfather of three with another on his or her way.