Years ago, my mother repeated an urban legend about newlyweds. The husband and wife were in the kitchen putting together a meal when he asked, “Why do you always cut an end off the roast before you cook it?”
She thought for a minute and said, “I don’t know. My mother always did it.”
This prompted a call to her mother and the same question.
“I have no idea,” she said. “My mother always did it, so I did it, too.”
Of course, it was time to call Grandma, who laughed and said, “I don’t know why you do it, but a large family called for a large roast. My pan was too small for it to lay flat, so I cut the roast into two pieces.”
We cackled over that story because we knew that even if it was fabricated, there was a kernel of truth in it. There are probably countless things we do without knowing why–we’re just emulating our role models.
Of all the houses my family lived in, and all the holidays we celebrated together, there is one tradition that I still keep. For some reason, before we sit down at a full table with friends and family for any celebration, I feel compelled to take a photo of the table. Sometimes there are people in the photo; sometimes not. But I’m pretty sure there’s not a turkey that ever hit the table (or a ham that hit the floor, Guinness) that didn’t get its Kodak moment. My mother always said she wanted to “make memories” for us, but I also think that a child who’d known poverty and a newlywed who’d known hunger probably came to see a full table as a victory and something to celebrate in and of itself.
This is probably Thanksgiving in Georgia when I was seven; I’m taking my cue from there being only four plates on the table, so possibly my father was in Korea. That china is long gone–Debby knows where!–but I still have some of the crystal stemware you can see on the china cabinet (and of course, still have the china cabinet in my own dining room). The menu: turkey and cornbread dressing, peas and potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, turnip greens, cranberry sauce, pecan pie (I am not a pie eater), and what looks like carrot cake or some kind of spice cake–which I do NOT eat and never would again after throwing up school cafeteria spice cake in first grade.
Edit: My brother David recognized the dining room in this photo as different from the one above. Same table and chairs, but not the same state and city–and I’d have been much younger in that second photo than when the top one was taken. My parents are getting ready for a Christmas party. The table is arranged so that people can move around it getting cookies and egg nog which Daddy is ladling into a cup for the picture. Beyond him is the living room with the tree and presents and the ALL IMPORTANT TV (at least to my siblings, if you recall this post). I’m fine with those cookies and fruit, but that appears to be a coconut cake, Debby’s favorite, at the far end of the table.
There it is: photographic proof that my favorite dessert in the world, chocolate cake, or at least yellow cake with chocolate frosting, is NOWHERE to be seen on two different important holidays. Nobody needs to be telling me the baby was “the favorite” anymore.
Still, the baby will continue to take photos of our repasts “just like Mother” did, because I like making memories with the people I love, too. There will be chocolate cake.