It’s that time of year….Auld Lang Syne or as the Scotsman/poet, Robbie Burns would write, “old long since”. And I’m in the mood to tell a story.
Christmas Eve I was in the grocery store buying flowers for a hostess gift (big Irish family had invited me to share their Christmas dinner), some mini-cupcakes for the same event and some fruit. As I wandered toward the produce section it suddenly struck me that for every woman in the store there were at least ten men shopping. I smiled to myself as I pictured ‘Mama’ in the kitchen prepping food for the big day and realizing she had forgotten to buy some ingredient. Yelling for her husband as she dashed off a small list, he is sent off to the store with a final, “.…and hurry!”
I noticed a middle-aged man walking away from his cart which was blocking the apples, of course. Where was he going? To the scale? Who weighs out their produce anymore? Apparently this man did. As I picked out my four Fiji apples, he hurried back, smiled and moved his cart, saying, “can you believe how much it costs to eat healthy?” I laughed and remarked how the red delicious apples were so much tastier out of state. That I was from Washington and I was convinced that they shipped the best of our delicious apples to other markets. We easily fell into swapping stories. He reminisced how, as a boy in upstate New York, his family would buy a bushel of apples, cheap, from a local orchard. They would store them in their naturally climate-controlled cellar and have fresh apples the entire winter. We wished each other ‘happy holidays’ and went our separate ways.
As I drove home, in a very ‘Auld Lang Syne’ kind of food-mood, I remembered things from my long ago youth at holiday time. Especially my mother’s traditions in the kitchen. Christmas dinner was a big stuffed turkey with all, and I do mean all, the trimmings. Dinner began with a ‘shrimp cocktail’. If there was fresh shrimp (and there had to have been; we lived in the Pacific Northwest for goodness sakes); my mother had never heard of them. Canned shrimp filled two third’s of a martini glass, topped with her homemade cocktail sauce (ketchup with horseradish and minced celery). A sprig of parsley on top and the glass was then placed on a paper doilie covered saucer. On the saucer was ONE, (never two or three) Ritz cracker.
The sage, giblet stuffing was made from scratch and that means my mother saved the heels of bread loaves for weeks. I’ve never tasted dressing as good since. She would make the usual trimmings, gravy from the turkey drippings, green beans (out of a can, of course) flavored with bits of boiled bacon, baked sweet potatoes, and jellied cranberry sauce. She considered whole berry cranberry sauce savage. Home made biscuits and mashed potatoes. And then the pièce de résistance………..her oyster dressing. Heaven in a bite!
Not being a particularly religious family the blessing would be short. We would toast each other with Manischewitz wine. A wine connoisseur she was not! And I never knew why a Kosher red wine was part of her tradition. As a little girl I was served one part wine and five parts water. I felt very grown up drinking my ‘wine’.
As dishes were passed around the table, someone would always mention my mother’s off colored joke about a “boarding house reach“. It went like this: My mother, a stickler for good manners, would instruct us that a ‘boarding house reach’ was when you could ‘reach’ for something on the table and at least one cheek remained on the seat of your chair. That was an acceptable ‘reach’ and not bad manners. Otherwise, you must ask politely for someone to pass down what you wanted.
I was never certain whether she had run a boarding house or had just lived in one sometime during her 1920’s flapper, bar owner, professional bowler, speckled younger days. If she had run a bordello it would not have surprised me! Miss you, Mom!
Footnote: “Auld Lang Syne” is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well-known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world; its traditional use being to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. By extension, it is also sung at funerals, graduations and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.
The song’s Scots title may be translated into English literally as “old long since”, or more idiomatically, “long long ago”, “days gone by” or “old times”.