Every Christmas during the years I was in elementary school, my mom invited my paternal grandparents and, usually one other couple, also relatives, over for dinner. One year the other couple was my great aunt and uncle, Eva and Alex. With my paternal step grandmother’s name also being Eva, it made moments a little confusing but fun.
Mom always fixed turkey, getting up in the wee hours of the morning to stuff the bird and get it into the oven so it would be ready for carving about 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon. The potatoes and the mixed vegetables would be started later that morning with my Grandma Eva whipping the potatoes until they almost looked like whipped cream. Of course, the toss salad would be made right before we’d sit down to eat. The day before, my mom made the pies: cherry, pumpkin and pecan or mincemeat, along with a wonderful green jello salad.
The green jello salad was made with mayonnaise, cottage cheese, yellow and green jello, horseradish, and several other ingredients I just can’t remember anymore. (My mom will be sending the recipe to me in January. If you’re interested in having it, let me know in the comment section below.) It seemed everyone loved this jello salad and actually expected it if they were invited to our house for dinner. The horseradish gave it a zing usually described as ‘absolutely delightful’.
I was old enough to be in charge of setting the table. It made me feel so grown up. I would fold each napkin into one-third its original size and place each one on a plate. Water glasses were placed on the left above the plates and cups and saucers or milk glasses were place on the right. The forks was at the left of the plates and the knifes and teaspoons, in that order, were at the right. I was so precise the Evas giggled a little as they watched me perform my task.
After all of us sat down at the table and grace had been said, we reached for the serving dish closest to us, took a helping and passed the plate or bowl clock-wise to the one sitting next to each of us. As we went through this very refined procedure, there was chitchat among the adults. “The turkey smells heavenly.” “Sweetie, could you pass the gravy, please?” It was all extremely civilized. The restraint shown was so different from what dinner was on a day-to-day basis.
When the green jello salad reached Uncle Alex, he dug the serving spoon into the ring overfilling it and heaped the portion onto his plate. “This looks so delicious, Eleanor. I’ll probably want seconds.” After he took a few bites, he asked what was in the salad.
My mom began to list the ingredients to him as she counted them on her fingers. “Two flavors of jello, mayonnaise, cottage cheese…”
Uncle Alex interrupted her saying, “As long as there isn’t horseradish in it. That stuff is nasty.”
Mom’s eyes got so big I thought they might pop out of her head. Her response sidestepped Uncle Alex’s comments. “Would you like some more coffee?”
Once dinner was over, Mom and I cleared the table, and went into the kitchen to wash the dishes. Uncle Alex followed us, once again asking Mom what was in the jello salad. Mom was already at the sink. She turned to face him. “Uncle Alex, there is horseradish in that salad. Do you still like it?”
Uncle Alex gave her a grimacing look, turned on his heels, and walked out of the kitchen. The subject was not discussed again that day.
Yes, Uncle Alex did still like the green jello salad but no one in the family ever discussed his comments in front of him again. The poor old man wouldn’t have been able to stand the indignity.