Evelyn Thompson had a knack for making family gatherings memorable.
It didn’t matter that her modest, two-bedroom house in the north end lacked a valet outside, or a reservation desk in front of the dining room. When her grandson Phillip went to her house for holiday dinners it was a formal affair.
The small size of the house required expanding from the main dining room into the overflow guest area – better known as “the basement.”
“Our parents would always insist that we dress up for this,” he remembers. “We couldn’t wear jeans and tennis shoes. We had to wear slacks.”
Thanksgiving and Christmas at their grandmother’s home became premiere events for Thompson, his two siblings, and about a dozen cousins. Now pastor of Bethlehem Temple Church, he savors these memories.
“As soon as you walked in the door you could smell her dressing,” the pastor says. “She was an expert at making dressing.”
While there were other traditional holiday staples like turkey, ham, and cranberry sauce, he says nutritious salads and crisp, sliced cucumbers – a favorite of his granddad’s – also held prominent places at the table.
The small size of the house required expanding from the main dining room into the overflow guest area – better known as “the basement.” There, as many as 16 children feasted together while their parents, aunts and uncles ate with the grandparents upstairs. But just because his grandmother “wanted to keep her nice things nice,” such as the fancy china reserved for the grownups, it didn’t mean her youngest house guests were excluded from lessons in etiquette.
“My cousins and I had the opportunity to bond … we laughed and shared. Those are the things that forge the bonds you remember, and that lasts.” – Pastor Phillip Thompson, Bethlehem Temple Church
“She really made this a formal experience for us,” says Thompson. “It really was my first introduction to how to be a proper adult, saying please and thank you and using the proper forks.”
At the core of all the training in personal skills was a spirit of togetherness.
“I think the one thing food does is, it kind of creates these bonding experiences,” Thompson says. “My cousins and I had the opportunity to bond … we laughed and shared. Those are the things that forge the bonds you remember, and that lasts.”
It’s been many years since those holiday gatherings in the 1970s and 1980s and he and his cousins are still connected, though changes in their adult lives have moved some of them to locations outside Flint. Now 94, his grandmother has graciously retired from her hostess role and the family travels to Cincinnati, where Thompson’s uncle welcomes them to dinner.
Now, at church events that include meals enjoyed by Bethlehem Temple’s spiritual family of worshipers, the pastor is sometimes reminded of the “emotional experience” he still treasures from those dinners in the little house on the north end.
“The term ‘fellowship’ comes to mind,” Thompson says, “and that’s what it was, a time to give and receive.”
Editor’s Note: Phillip Thompson also is the manager of community outreach at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.
Share your own meal-related memories, favorite recipes, and more by participating in the Savor the Flavor of Flint campaign and event Jan. 27, 2018 at Dort Arena. Visit SavorTheFlavorFlint.com
The Savor the Flavor of Flint event is sponsored by the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF), Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Comcast, Health Alliance Plan and supporters like the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, Bethlehem Temple Baptist, Christ The King Catholic, Foss Avenue Baptist, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, Metropolitan Baptist, New Jerusalem Full Gospel Baptist, and Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist churches.
Grateful for each other – Sweet!
By Stacy Swimp
Sisters Ericle and Audrey Foster know what’s most important to them — and that’s family.
In addition to being grateful for her relationship with her 8-year-old sister Audrey, 11-year-old Ericle expresses the heart-warming sentiment that when love is at the center of your life, all other things can be conquered.
“My family is here to support, love, and care for me. They let me know how much they love and provide for me. Without them I would not be standing here right now,” she says.
When asked what she is most grateful for Audrey simply replies, her sister.
Their understandably proud mother Andrea McGhee fosters a close relationship between her daughters by keeping family traditions alive.
One of them is baking holiday cookies.
“It started when I was a child. My mom involved us in baking sugar cookies, making frosting and decorating them. Now, I enjoy doing the same thing with my daughters,” says McGhee, who hopes her girls will carry on that tradition with their children.
She feels blessed by her daughters’ goodwill and generosity toward each other and others.
Sunday meals and more: How one Mom’s fixings spread love throughout Flint
By Stacy Swimp
Flint Fire Chief Raymond Barton grew up in a tough environment and is thankful he avoided the temptations that can derail an otherwise promising life. He gives thanks by giving back.
He credits his mother for helping put him on the path that guides him even today as he celebrates his two sons and three grandchildren. Up until the time she passed in 2005, Sunday meals were a time-honored tradition and something Maude Barton did not budge on. Everyone came, gave thanks and bonded over those meals, Barton says.
She cooked for others as well.
When Barton began his career, his mother came in and cooked a monthly meal for 15 fire fighters at Flint Station Three and later at Station Four following his transfer there.
“She was an excellent cook,” says Barton. “It was a tradition everyone looked forward to. Everyone got so close that the guys (fire fighters) could walk into my mom’s house and know where all the utensils were.”
When a fellow fire fighter Rudy Thomas got sick, Mama Barton cooked him a hot plate and delivered it to the hospital during his entire recovery.
Today, Barton and his sister continue that tradition and cook Sunday meals for the fire station.
“That,” says Barton, “would make my mom really proud.”