I remember the first time I saw cranberry sauce on the table at Thanksgiving.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was wrapping up and the pleasing aroma of my mother’s baking pulled me off our shag carpet where I was sprawled in front of the TV. I must have been about eight or nine.
“Hey, where you goin’?” my dad inquired from his favorite faux leather recliner.
“Smells like we are ready to eat,” I said.
“Before you go, flip the channel over to CBS. I wanna see if Jimmy the Greek thinks Dallas will beat Detroit this afternoon.”
I obediently turned the big knob on our Zenith before scurrying off.
On the way to the kitchen, I stopped in my tracks. The feast was already set. A smorgasbord of vegetables and casseroles surrounded the main event–a large Butterball turkey in the center of the table.
At eight years old, I had no comprehension of what a good cook my mother was. She could look into our cabinets and where I saw lard and Captain Crunch cereal, she saw the ingredients of a home cooked meal. Give her thirty minutes and she served something that tasted good–every time.
But what was this on the table?
Even at my tender young age, I recognized this was not homemade. It was unlike my mother to take a shortcut, but make no mistake, this had come from a can.
The circular rings imprinted on the substance tipped me off. I flashed back to an incident earlier in the summer at Kid’s Camp. My friend, Mike, in an attempt to be funny, threw a can of black-eyed peas into the air, brazenly touting that he could catch it without opening his eyes.
Mike was unsuccessful.
In fact, he suffered blunt force trauma to his head as the can smacked it on the way back to the earth. Two images were seared into my mind.
(1) Mike running so we couldn’t see him cry.
(2) The scuffed label pushed back on the can to reveal the tell-tale ridges in the metal.
Now, resting on our dining room table, sat contents from such a can.
But what was it? Organ transplants were becoming a medical miracle in the mid-1970’s, but I couldn’t reconcile in my immature brain why my mother put someone’s donated kidney out at Thanksgiving.
Shouldn’t we at least put it back in the can to keep it preserved? Shouldn’t we hurry up and eat so we could get it to the hospital? And why did my mom have it? Was she part of an underground black market ring of kidney trafficking? (I had a vivid imagination.)
No, my mother was a godly woman. Perhaps she wanted us to pray over it during grace. I could hear my dad’s offering . . .
“Dear Heavenly Father,
We are grateful for our family and thankful for this food. I pray your blessings on those who prepared it. May it nourish our bodies and our bodies to your service. And oh yeah, please keep whoever needs this kidney on our table alive until we can get it to them right after the game. Amen.”
My mom interrupted my daydream and entered the room with a steaming batch of rolls.
“What is that?” I asked as I pointed to the sludge that was now forming its own scarlet puddle.
“Oh, that’s cranberry sauce. Your Uncle Ferrell likes it,” she said. “He’ll be joining us for lunch.”
Makes sense, I thought. Uncle Ferrell was an old bachelor. He was used to eating food from a can. My palate was more refined.
She went back in the kitchen, but I remained, mesmerized. Again, my logical brain struggled to equate the term “sauce” with the cylindrical, semi-solid plasma that sat in front of me.
I looked over at the gravy in its boat. THAT was sauce!
Usually, I was the last to the table because I was busy playing outside or watching TV, but today I was the first to sit. I wanted to study this cranberry “sauce” a bit more.
I moved the saucer it sat upon. Hmmm . . . it jiggled like Jell-O. I smelled it. Earthy, yet sweet. I took my fork and carved out a small hunk near the underbelly so no one would notice.
Before I tasted, I observed it closely. It was crimson on the inside too. I had been fooled too many times biting into chocolates from Whitman’s Sampler to blindly put this in my mouth.
I closed my eyes and placed the cranberry sauce carefully on the tip of my tongue. I pressed it to the roof of my mouth to allow the contents to swirl and mix with my taste buds.
I did not need to take a second bite. The verdict was in–NASTY. Both the taste (like dirt!) and the texture (like an overripe watermelon) caused my stomach to recoil. How could anybody eat this stuff?
Soon, the rest of the family joined me at the table. We prayed (no mention of a kidney) and passed the food to each family member. I kept an eye on the cranberry sauce to see if I was the only one who disliked it.
Uncle Ferrell was the only taker.
The rest of us were used to real food. My mother, fearing the cranberry sauce might be associated with her culinary skills, quickly and quietly scraped it into our dog’s bowl as she cleaned the table. He sauntered over, sniffed it, bit Uncle Ferrell on the ankle, and sat back down without eating it.
That was forty-two years ago and I still haven’t touched the stuff.
Wait, I take that back. I did grab a can that had been in our pantry for about a decade to spackle some drywall. Worked like a charm!