Celery sticks, filled with peanut butter, or pimento cheese, nuzzling up to warm wine, and cold beer: it can only mean Dad’s extended family was coming round.
Batten down the hatches, and prepare to be kissed on both cheeks.
We cut off the leaves – of the celery, not the family: I am not, to the best of my knowledge, related to Triffids. We removed the leaves because that’s what you did to celery in the Midwest in the early to mid 70s. I’ve since been told that celery leaves are poisonous. No one, however, bothered to tell Old Silver Nose, the family moggie. One whiff of celery leaf, and he turned into a grey, pissed-up little feline: rolling round on the kitchen floor, and giving that there leaf What For.
Whatever the weather, there were sweet potatoes, in a white and blue Corning ware dish, made even sweeter by the addition of brown sugar, and a collection of melted marshmallows on top. Often, Mom made Jello with some sort of fruit mixed in. I think there was mash as well, plus stuffing – from a box, and the kitchen tap – and gravy, plus some sort of veg, and meat. My mother was from the generation that bought canned veg, then boiled it til it was a submissive mound of green or orange mush. Turning vegetarian some 30 years later was perhaps some sort of Apology to the Vegetable World on my part.
For afters, there was probably ice cream, and of course home-made cake: coconut, “Lazy Daisy”, or “Aunt Essie’s Bomb”, a rich, heavy, fudgy concoction named by my father after one of the Tennessee great-aunties. Since it was Dad’s side that was visiting, and not my mother’s teetotal relatives, there was probably wine, and almost certainly Strohs beer.
We used the dining room, and the massive table that came from Tusa Becky’s former boss, Dr. Stanley, and which once took a central role in a high school production of “Arsenic and Old Lace”. I think I went to see the play on the strength of that table alone. I recall the chap who took the part of “Teddy” was particularly good. Our table played its role as though it was born to it.
Once covered with a proper tablecloth, out came the “good dishes” and silver plate: all wedding presents from the 1950s, and polished and wrapped with “Saran Wrap” – aka cling film – and carefully packed away once the clearing up began.
I own what may be the sole family survivor: a tripod butter dish (pictured) that’s a sort of cross between a globe, and the way I imagine the “Thunder Child” from HG Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” looked, if that valiant ship were around three inches tall, and covered in easily-tarnished silver plate.
Except for myself and my siblings, the people who filled that back room with noise and love and affectionate arguments are gone now. My father is the last leaf on that branch of the family tree.
Here’s to you, the next generation’s “Mosu”. Across the miles, I pour a glass of red wine, raise it to you, “Old Man”, and say: “Să trăiască! Să trăim!”