April 23, 2010
Time for another installment in our series of true-life stories about food and manners, submitted by our wonderful readers in response to our first Inviting Writing prompt. (You can read the first story here.) Today’s tale comes to us from Christine Lucas, a writer in Savannah, Georgia.
By Christine Lucas
I learned from a very young age that two sets of manners existed. There were those for at home—where one could fold their legs over the arm of a chair, and use a paper towel for a napkin—and there were those for Nanna’s house. She required that food be eaten like a lady. Sandwiches were cut in four pieces. Donuts were cut in two. Subs, well, they were pureed and ingested through a straw. (Not really, but you get the idea.)
Nanna held court in her dining room. From one end of the table, she’d orchestrate the passing of food like she was calling a game. “Romie’s plate is open! Quickly, Dianne passes the carrots to the far end of the table. Loretta assists with the butter. Christine moves in with salt which is intercepted by Bob who needs it for his corn.” The only real defense against more food would have been to throw your plate out the window like a frisbee, and our manners prevented such an act.
After one Christmas dinner, Nanna had my aunt reach into a cabinet and pull out a box of Russell Stover candy. Nanna carefully removed the cellophane from the box, like a man helping a woman from her dress. “Aren’t they beautiful?” she said tilting the box for the rest of us to see. Eight cups of brown wax paper each held a petit four. “Look at how wonderfully they are decorated.”
The box was passed for us each to admire. No one had been given permission to take one yet, so we simply cooed on command as they went around the table. But what was that smell? Paraffin?
“Mother, where did you get these?” Aunt Dianne asked.
“Dr. Roberts gave them to me,” Nanna told her.
“Dr. Who?” Aunt Dianne asked again. She was usually the one to take Nanna to appointments, and she didn’t remember a doctor by that name.
“You know, Dr. Roberts,” Nanna repeated. “From—”
Aunt Dianne’s mouth dropped open as she remembered the person in question.
“Mother! Dr. Roberts died nine years ago! These candies are a decade old!”
Nanna clearly didn’t see why that was important and began offering them to us. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “The air didn’t get to them. They were wrapped in plastic.”
Caught between an ancient piece of cake and a hard place, we each began saying how delicious dinner was. What else was there to do? Nanna had no pets. If we discreetly dropped the waxy treats on the floor, they’d surely still be there at Easter. “The ham was so succulent,” I said. Hadn’t we all had seconds and thirds? “Those carrots were fantastic,” my husband added. We all nodded at each other like bobble heads on a dashboard.
Only after someone flipped the box over and revealed a seeping blue-green stain did Nanna concede that Dr. Roberts’ gift was no longer edible. Too bad. I’m sure she had wanted to dig into the box the moment he gave them to her—but that wouldn’t have been polite.
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