Betty Cambre and her family.
By Laura Claverie
For most grandmothers, Sunday is a time of leisure. But not if you are Betty Cambre of River Ridge. It is on these normally slow days that she is at her busiest. You see, Betty has a family lunch every Sunday for the whole Cambre gang…all seven adult children and their spouses and 21 grandchildren.
“Sunday has always been a family day for me,” she says. “My grandmother lived down the street from my family in Little Farms, and each Sunday we’d all gather at her house for coffee and beignets. She also had seven children, so there was always a big group of aunts, uncles and cousins gathering around the table.”
Once Betty’s grandmother no longer hosted the Sunday events, Betty’s parents took over until Betty’s family outgrew their grandparents’ home. The Cambres have continued the family tradition of hosting these special lunches every Sunday since 1987.
Fortunately for Betty and her husband of 49 years, David, six of their seven children live in New Orleans. One son and his family live on the Northshore. Her children range in ages from 31-48 and the grandchildren from newborn to 21. “They all get along really well, “she says. “And yes, there are a lot of lively discussions and differing opinions. It gets quite noisy at times!”
Not one to delegate, Betty does all the cooking and cleaning, with the help of her two sons-in-law. The sheer number of people and the massive grocery bill each month would give most grandmothers an Excedrin headache, but not Betty. She allows the young families to host special occasions like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving. The rest of the Sundays are on her turf.
The logistics are pretty simple. Each Saturday Betty texts a two word message to her adult kids: Dinner tomorrow? Some answer quickly, others take their time. Some have definite plans, others are vague. “I really never know who is coming or when, so I just plan for about 25, give or take.”
Betty keeps the menu basic, working around family members who are gluten free, lactose intolerant, allergic or vegan. Family favorites include: stewed chicken and pasta with red gravy; hand-made meatballs with sausage and pasta; baked ham with mac and cheese and bar-b-cued ribs, chicken or pork loin. Anyone is free to raid the freezer for dessert where there is a stash of popsicles, ice cream sandwiches and Polar Bars.
Adults gather around a large dining room table, teens cluster at the spacious kitchen island and younger ones sit at the children’s table. Betty uses real plates and cutlery and paper napkins and she runs her dishwasher for the rest of the afternoon.
When weather permits, many family members swim in the backyard pool and the bar-b-que pit is smokin’. Rainy days get a little more challenging, with adults and teens hang out and little ones running around. She keeps a special eye on the seven young boy cousins, affectionately called the “Frito Banditos”, as they can get quite creative.
Betty and David, a recently retired attorney, still find time to make it to baseball and soccer games their grandchildren participate in. They often drive to out-of-town games as well.
All of this weekend activity has value. “These weekly meals keep our family together,” she says. “All of the adults know one another and their spouses. The cousins love being together, even if they are just running around and making a mess. Families have to work at staying together, and what better way than to enjoy a meal? Isn’t that the New Orleans way?”
Betty is rightfully proud of her family. “They are all good people, smart with good heads and hearts. And they are quite accomplished in their professions. We are truly blessed.”
And some would add: well fed.
Laura Claverie is a freelance writer and grandmother to two wonderful grandchildren, Rylan and Amelia. She lives in the Garden District.