By Lee Pitts
It may shock some people to learn that I’ve never eaten supper in my life. Oh sure, I’ve hardly ever missed the evening meal, it’s just that in my house it’s called dinner, not supper. I’ve traveled to all 50 states and believe me, it can get really confusing in the Midwest and deep South where dinner is supper and lunch is dinner.
As I understand it, dinner was traditionally the biggest meal of the day in the Midwest and Southern farming communities where the workers needed lots of energy to work 14-hour days. Supper was a lighter meal eaten in the evening after all of the work was done. Dinner was also the most formal meal of the day but not in my house. I’ve never sat down to a lunch where there was a tablecloth, three forks per setting, candles or cloth napkins. I’m lucky to get a bent fork and a paper towel!
After researching the issue, I’m still confused. Is supper lunch or dinner? Two of my favorite columnists have opined on the matter. Andy Rooney said that Democrats eat supper before sundown and Republicans eat dinner after 8. But I haven’t eaten dinner after 8 in my life. Russell Baker said that blue-collar people eat supper but I’ve always considered myself a blue-collar guy and like I said, I’ve never eaten supper. He also said that you can tell supper eaters because they faint dead away if you serve them an artichoke.
I’m of the belief that, like much in our society, what word you use depends on which side of the Mississippi you live. Easterners eat dinner after dark and call it supper and Westerners eat supper at 6 and call it dinner.
If you think it’s confusing traveling between the states, you ought to go live in a foreign country like my wife and I did when we lived in Australia for a year on a Rotary Graduate Fellowship. I got to pick any university in the world to attend and if a foreign language was spoken there, Rotary would have also paid for intensive language training. Since I thought I was going to a country that spoke English, I passed on language training and for the first two months we lived there, I couldn’t understand a single word they said. From the first time I heard “areyourightmate?” to our first invitation to tea, I just went around with a blank stare on my face.
I’ve loved tea ever since I traveled Texas as a livestock field editor. I got hooked on Texas tea and I’ve been addicted to iced tea ever since. So when my wife and I were invited to “tea” in Australia, we assumed we’d be drinking a cuppa and maybe eating some scones or crumpets. You can Imagine our surprise when we were eating dinner. Evidently, tea is not only something you drink, it’s also something you bite and chew. It gets really confusing when you add Brits into the mix. Or, as the Aussies call them, “bloody POMS.” The initials stand for “prisoner’s of majesty’s service,” which gives you an idea of the low regard held for the British in the land down under. The bloody POMS refer to something they call “high tea,” which you and I call dinner or supper, and low tea is lunch. There is also something they call afternoon tea in which the participants get snockered on Sherry from 3:30 to 5.
You may think I’m making too much commotion about all this dinner versus supper thing but I’ve seen it destroy households. I’m thinking of one particular “mixed marriage” where the husband, being a farmer from the Midwest, called dinner supper and the wife, from California, insisted on eating dinner. The marriage didn’t last as long as the garage sale toaster someone gave them for a wedding present. (What did you expect us to get them, a complete set of sterling silver?) I knew the marriage had too much to overcome and wouldn’t last and I wasn’t about to invest that much money in it.
In the final analysis, I think I’ve come up with a solution we can all live by. Forget dinner, or supper if you insist, and skip right to dessert. We all know what that is.