It is a tradition on Sundays for my sister to load her table with food and fill her house with family and friends.
We all come spilling in from our various points of origination. Some of us have been to early church and Sunday school, some slept later and made it to Sunday school and late church while my brother-in-law has been to early church, Sunday school and late church. He is devoted.
Cheerful sounds reverberate as the front door and back door open and slam repeatedly, hellos ring out and the women - never the men, mind you - grab bowls, dishes and glasses and help Louise organize.
Finally, all is prepared - for she has been cooking since Saturday - we come together, bow our heads, say the grace then grab a plate. It's always buffet-style at Louise's house.
The ornate island topped with glistening black marble is topped with colorful bowls of home-cooked goodness, and there is always a fresh arrangement of flowers.
Serving spoons clink against the pottery, at least one child is bound to say, "Mama, I don't want that" and at least one mama is sure to say, "Listen to me. You try this. If you don't want it, that's OK but you have to at least try it."
"Ronda, what do you want to drink?" someone will ask.
"Just water," I reply and wonder why they continue to ask. It's what I always drink. But since they don't remember that, I add, "Without ice."
We adults settle down at the big table with the kids at a smaller glass table across the room or at the bar. They hurry to eat. Kids always do that. Especially when there are other cousins to play with.
If it's summertime, they race for their swim suits then head for the pool. If it's too cold to swim, they head to another part of the long, rambling, graciously restored farmhouse.
Where we sit to dine was once a screened-in porch, but one of the many additions to the house has made it into a dining room, painted in a cheery shade of yellow. The sun room, the dining room and the kitchen are open, friendly and welcome.
Just like the conversation at the table.
On any given Sunday, the topics will mostly vary, bouncing from politics to movies to engagements, births, marriages or to stories of the week passed, which is liable to include merriment, entertainment and at least one mishap.
One subject is always certain to be discussed at the Sunday dinner table. We will talk of church, the Lord and even gently debate the Bible. Perhaps it is best to say that we share interpretations, ask questions and look for discernment.
One engaging exchange regarded whether the folks who are dead and gone can look back from their place of rest and see us on earth. Finally, we dribbled down to the theory that the answer is probably not. The only thing anyone could find to base that on was the scripture that promises "no tears in heaven." Looking back to this life, we concluded, would be sorrowful.
Louise, fine cook that she is, will have always prepared homemade dessert. Hot cobblers and ice cream, layer cake, banana pudding or a pie or two. She serves the dessert, we talk and laugh more in a laid-back, no-hurry-to-leave-the-table kind of way. Then, without fail, one of the kids will come whimpering to a parent and the parent will say, "You need a nap. We've got to go home so you can sleep."
That will be the cue for all the women - never the men, mind you - to clear the table and clean the kitchen. The men will watch the race or the ballgame while the women will talk of clothes, recipes or Tupperware.
Then the merry meal will be over.
But the memories will stretch forward, trailing all of us to our final resting place.Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Sign up for her newsletter.