Food has always been an important part of any celebration or gathering of the Martin, Sechrist, Melvin clan. You simply couldn’t do it properly without food. Back in the olden days (sounds like the Lone Ranger should come riding out of the pages… save that for another time) we would have the huge spread, table busting, buzzard attracting reunions on these long, long, long planks (tables) that connected most of the trees in the backyard of the church… or the front yard of Uncle Tommy Moore’s old farm house in Stuart, Virginia, or food in the kitchen, back porch, and screened in porch at Mama Martin’s house in Mayodan.
Those were some very happy days. Even we kids just loved the food and everybody laughing and telling stories of how life had been for them since the last reunion. We just missed the Martin-Sechrist reunion back in early December. I wasn’t feeling well at all, and my cousin Kenny’s step-son was taken to Duke for a bleeding brain tumor. Several went to Durham to be with them. He has since gone on to heaven.
I also remember how the responsibilities and locations of the reunions and other celebrations changed as some of the younger ones took their turn as Reunion Celebration Activities Directors. My immediate family (being in ministry and always working while everyone else was celebrating) fell out of the loop for the Martin reunion. The Melvin’s, as far as I know, did not gather for reunions, but the Bruce’s and McGehee’s did up until there were not enough left.
When we lived in Asheboro (mid 90’s), all Shirley’s grandparents were no longer with us, aunts, uncles and cousins were scattered from Tennessee, Texas, New England, and Georgia. We just didn’t get together that much – the linchpin; her grandmother and grandfather were not there to bring everyone home. The responsibilities of the Thanksgiving and Christmas meal had now fallen to Shirley. We had a parsonage large enough to accommodate everyone and a formal dinning room able to seat everyone.
One year on Thanksgiving Eve Shirley had two tickets for a basketball game in Cameron. She and Stephen (our son) headed off for Duke while Shirley’s mom, Margie and I were left to fix the potato salad and the sweet potato casserole. Needless to say, Julia Chiles did not show up that night nor answer the phone. I allowed the potatoes to scorch a bit….(UNDERSTATEMENT) Margie and I laughed as we decided not to reveal our big secret. We worked hard that night getting the black burned spots off of and out of both sets of potatoes. We added the mustard, mayonnaise, sweet pickles and onions for the potato salad, and all the sweet stuff for the sweet potatoes, baked the casserole and put the salad in the fridge.
We aired out the house and until there was no oder that would give away our secret. Shirley and Stephen arrived back after midnight. All of OUR stuff was ready… nicely covered in the fridge. The people started arriving around ten the next morning. We gathered round the table, the blessing was said, small talk had given way to eyes that were searching out the next big spoonful of something delicious. And then it happened. Shirley said right out loud: “This potato salad tastes a little funny.” Margie and I looked at each other and just grinned. I think I responded with something like; “Do you think we got too much mustard in it?” Shirley quickly added: “No, It tastes burned!” Margie and I appeared shocked for a second and then bursted out laughing, sharing the big reveal. Everyone got a big laugh out of that… but I don’t think they ate any more of our original country-fried potato salad.
For some strange reason Margie and I were not called to potato duty for quite some time. Since then we have blown tradition out the window. Instead of hours and hours of work at someone’s home usually by the woman of the house, we have ordered ready made meals, turkey and ham with all the fixings from Salem Kitchen in Winston or the Moose Caffe at the Farmer’s Market, we have gone out to Kanes and Walkers at Myrtle Beach, visited that place in Sophia that Richard Petty likes so much. Only recently have we come back home with the adjusted tradition. Now the three men of the family wait for the three ladies of the family to tell us what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and why we should do it faster. Everyone is happy.
I hope you have enough food for Christmas… burned or regular. But more than that I hope you have family and friends with whom you can share some of this day. Yes, the food is important… but sharing our hearts is a much greater gift.
Only 75 more showings of “The Christmas Story” with Ralphie before Christmas.