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Over the years I’ve seen a few productions of the original 1967 musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. In each of the productions the cast would energize the first scene with the title song and would end the two-act musical with “Happiness,” the sweet nostalgic take on childhood. Of course, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Schroeder, and Charlie all had their big numbers under the spotlight, but Snoopy’s “Suppertime” song and ragtime dance was the laughable bit that made me hungry for more. “It’s suppertime / Yeah it’s suppertime / Oh it’s sup- sup suppertime / Very best time of day”

I thought of these words recently when eating out with my close travel buddies, Larry and Leslie, for what has become our traditional Friday night meal before returning to their home to stream a movie. Our eating out is mostly done at happy hour when prices are cheaper if one gets to the restaurant early enough to snag a seat in the bar or outdoor patio. 

We laugh sometimes at how predictable our weekly routine has become, but I have a few questions poking the bear that is me. Isn’t this what my parents did when they became older? That is, go out with friends for the early blue plate special at the cafeteria so they could be home at a decent time? Just like the blue plate special, today’s happy hours begin early and end early with the sun still shining. If suppertime is the best time of the day, do I factor in too much price, convenience and opportunity in not making it truly so?   Could I still do Snoopy’s song and dance with theatrical fervor and a reservation at 8:30? Can you?

When we eat supper (or dinner) actually does say something about us in this technological age. Although we use the terms dinner and supper interchangeably, historically that was not always the case. For example, during the Middle Ages, English nobles ate dinner around noon, often an ostentatious display of wealth and power that could last hours. Tradesmen, merchants and peasants also ate their big meal at one or two, but did not tarry as they had work still to do. Supper then became a light repast (maybe cold leftovers from dinner) around sundown. It was often a rushed affair before the sun set, their version of lights out.  

Fast forward many centuries and throw in some colonialism, capitalism, an Industrial Revolution, and evolving social strata to change eating times and nomenclature. Oh sure, colonial America replicated many English customs.   Even into the 20th century farming communities, especially in the Mid-West and South, often kept the same distinction between dinner and supper although modern illumination provided more wiggle room for supper time. Emily Post weighed in about the etiquette of supper versus dinner first in 1922, but by 1960 her Etiquette Institute sang a different tune and standardized the times of lunch at midday, dinner in the evening, and an optional supper thrown in for late night balls.

But what etiquette should we follow today? I suggest old rituals and class and age determinations, once followed with ironclad discipline, mean nothing in a very fluid and changing world. Dinner or supper? Blue plate special, happy hour or dinner at 8? Who cares? In the musical Charlie Brown knows the true answer. Happiness is love of life’s ordinary experiences — best served up with friends. So as Snoopy would sing, “Bring on the soup dish, bring on the cup, bring on the bacon and fill me up, cause it’s supper, supper, supper, suppertime.”

Bev Graves occasionally writes for OutLook by the Bay.

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