Growing up, my mother was the “hostess with the mostest” when it came to butterballs and cranberry sauce. She could delegate on Thanksgiving like nobody’s business, but first a mental snapshot of our guests.Year after year, they were always the same: my two uncles, Grandma and crazy—I mean CRAZY—Great Aunt. Thanksgiving was the only time we ever saw them, as if they were a hologram designed to operate on the last Thursday of November only; considering their eccentricities this was probably a good thing.
Take Uncle David and the public health scare he caused in November 1981. That was the Thanksgiving he told my Mom he had crabs as he exited our bathroom. Right after that, she taped a yellow crime scene banner across the bathroom door. In my memory, it was the same kind the police use—which it couldn’t have been, obviously, but I was only six and that’s what I remember.
My other Uncle was obese, drove a truck full of orange juice for a living, and referred to himself in the third person as “psycho boy”. I swear to God I am not making this up. Psycho Boy lived with my crazy Great Aunt, Mary, in a trailer park on Bonefish Road; the place had overturned cans of dog food in it, which I understand she ate with gusto. She was full of other TMI too. She had an obsession with telling the whole world about how comfortable her “cotton crotch panties” were, and would go on these super long walks just after we ate. Just as we were getting ready to call the police because we hadn’t seen her in hours, she’d come back and inform us that she had “gone outside to pass some gas.”
But I am saving the best for last: my Grandma, who usually arrived for Thanksgiving with a big hat on, not unlike the one Scarlett O’Hara wore to the barbecue. Grandma’s been dead a long time, and I’m not about to speak of ill of her, but she was a true oddball. She used big, grand words to describe everything, practically bellowing things like “I just adore costume jewelry!” In Grandma, it was like she had to choose between having a good heart or a work ethic. She was nice, but more than a little lazy, driving my Mom nuts with stories about slipping on pickle juice in the grocery store, “When I threatened to sue, the store manager asked me to leave!” she’d gasp. I’d sit there fascinated and half in love with her—so much more interested in what she had to say than the Macy’s Day Parade.
For this motley crew, my Mom prepared a meal on the scale of genius.She knew most of them didn’t care about the food because they were there to drink—so the cranberry sauce came straight out of the can. Back then my Dad liked to drink just like the rest of them, so she delegated the turkey to him. She convinced him he ought to smoke the big 16 pound thing out on the backyard grill, and that’s where he and my uncles held court the entire night. She never had to see them—she just concentrated on the side dishes. I think Mom and I agreed that our favorite side was what my Grandma always brought: the Waldorf Salad.
It was such a pretty salad—dark red apple skins peaked out from tons of mayo and green chucks of pear. The colors were so autumnal, and of course, she’d usually present it with one of her descriptive stories. She’d been wealthy growing up and had stayed at the Waldorf Astoria hotel where the salad originated. The whole family loved that salad. I swear it was the reason behind my Mom’s forgiving shrug when Grandma left without offering to clean up.
After she and the rest of that old Thanksgiving Day crowd died off, we used the Waldorf Salad with new guests. It really does have magical powers. Approach any high maintenance weirdo with a bag of celery and some fruit, asking them to help you by cutting it up and dousing it with lemon juice, and I think you’ll be surprised at their reaction. It kept a jerky boyfriend I brought to a Thanksgiving in 1993 happy for over an over. He was prone to snarling, but I think I saw him half-way smile when he presented me with a finished bowl of the stuff. “Thank you,” I told him, “you gave me such a nice memory of Thanksgivings past.”
I’m a food blogger and this is a link to the recipe of my Grandma’s Waldorf Salad.
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