Grace can be amazing.
As a pre-teen in the 1950s, I accompanied my parents to the home of my great aunt and great uncle in Alhambra for Sunday afternoon dinners.
Uncle Ed was my paternal grandmother's eldest brother. My paternal grandmother died when Dad was 10, and Uncle Ed took a proprietary interest in his upbringing.
Because there was no San Diego (405) Freeway in the 1950s, we drove surface streets from Newport Beach/Costa Mesa to Los Angeles County's western San Gabriel Valley. We made the trek several Sundays per year, and it seemed to me a major excursion.
But my Aunt Margaret made the journey worthwhile. She was kind and generous, and an outstanding cook. She always prepared a delicious pork roast, fresh-baked rolls and homemade pie for our Sunday sit-downs around her dining-room table.
Besides, there was a neat public park at the end of her cul-de-sac.
Aunt Margaret's husband –- whom she called "Edwin" — was a formidable gentleman who seemed always to wear a white shirt and tie with pressed suit pants and smartly buffed shoes. We timed our arrival at their door for 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon, giving them time to return home from church and prepare for our visit.
Uncle Ed was tall, distinguished and commanding. He impressed me with the way he said grace prior to our Sunday meals. He spoke loudly and formally, in dramatic ascending and descending arpeggios, as if addressing a political convention.
His earnest petitions were also lengthy.
A CPA by trade, every time he bowed his head in our presence I was certain he was transacting important business.
Sometimes, as he prayed, I'd squint my right eye just enough to watch him. My suspicions were always confirmed. His eyes were closed; he never read his lines from a crib sheet.
My great uncle knew how to pray!
My brother, sister and I shared the dinner-table "grace" duties in our household.
Because I was the oldest sibling, it was my responsibility to break in new prayers. They were always scripted, we never ad-libbed.
The first prayer I remember saying at the dinner table was that old chestnut, "Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing, thank you God for everything. Amen."
It proved suitable enough for me to recite from the podium of my dad's employer's Christmas dinner gala one year when the invited chaplain failed to show.
The prayer worked well for several years, until I was 10 or so. After listening to Uncle Ed's soaring manifestoes, our humble request seemed, well, lightweight. Sing-songy, it lacked Uncle Ed's moving crescendos.
So, I transitioned to the more mature and stolid, "God is great, God is good; let us thank him for this food. Amen." Um, not exactly "Edwin-esque" in tone and pitch. After an appropriate trial period, I shelved it. I felt as though we were addressing a disinterested third party.
I moved forward to the decidedly more emotive, "Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blest. Amen." It was short, sweet and faintly liturgical, but also lacked panache.
My little sister regularly torpedoed my efforts by returning to "Thank you for the world so sweet." She was such a traditionalist.
When I was 12 or so, I went with, "Be present at our table Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These morsels bless and grant that we may feast in paradise with thee. Amen." Rock-ribbed. Wesleyan.
Sometime during my rebellious teens I stopped saying grace altogether. Fifteen years downstream, this prodigal — now a young father — returned to mealtime blessings.
I taught my kids to say grace and they ultimately opted for the unscripted extempore variety — a la Uncle Ed. They thanked God for the food — and also for sunshine, rainbows, relatives, pets and whatever else came to mind.
Our eight grandkids now continue the practice.
And I report with satisfaction that our 6-year-old Eva would make Uncle Ed proud.
JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.