My father was a real character. He was a great storyteller, especially after a glass (or two) of red wine. He was also a man who knew his own mind, and once his mind was made up, there was absolutely no changing it. Not even my mother, who had fairly good control over him until she pre-deceased him, could talk him down once he had drawn his line in the sand.
We frequently ate at my dad’s sister’s house on Friday nights. It was sort of an open-house situation, neighbors and friends of my aunt would also drop by for a drink (beers in frosted mugs for the men and Old Fashioneds for the ladies). Occasionally, we would all be invited to a family dinner at the home of my aunt’s best friend, Miss Artie. She was the fanciest of the bunch, her only child was grown and flown, and she and her husband lived in a home as elegant as any old Southern mansion. Since my brothers and I were sometimes included in these invitations, my mother would give us an extended lecture on our behavior while in her home, especially at Miss Artie’s dining room table. We would eat what was put in front of us, we would speak when spoken to, and we would not fight with each other until we got home.
My mother had three levels of discipline: (1) a resounding throat clearing, which she would do in church or another public space when she wanted us to stop immediately whatever we were doing; (2) a death glare followed by a very firm pinch to the back side of one’s arm, you know, that little fatty area that is soft and muscle-free; and (3) shouting “ROY!” for my father to take over. Her throat clearing (which I must admit I have inherited) was known to stop even other people’s children in their tracks, especially in church.
One night we went to Miss Artie’s for dinner. Dressed up in church clothes, and duly advised of our expected behavior, we arrived. The adults had appetizers and cocktails in the living room, and the kids had juice and pigs-in-the-blanket in the kitchen. I could hear my dad telling a story in the next room, and everyone was laughing. Eventually we were called to the dining room table, resplendent in china and crystal and silver.
Out came Miss Artie with a large casserole dish, which she placed in the center of the table. Now, alarm bells immediately went off. My father, Cajun through and through, did not eat casseroles. He didn’t like his foods all mixed together and cooked in one pot, unless you are talking about gumbo or jambalaya. He didn’t even eat lasagna, which he called “slop.”
My mother, seeing the casserole dish, shot a look in my father’s direction–not really a death glare, but certainly a pleading look that clearly said, “Roy, please behave.” My father, ignoring my mother completely, politely asked our hostess, “Artie, what’s that?”
Miss Artie, beaming from ear to ear as she scooped large portions on everyone’s plate, replied that we were to be her guinea pigs as she had tried a new recipe, Turkey Tetrazzini. My father’s response, as his plate was put in front of him, “No thanks, I don’t eat casseroles.” My brother, the middle child, said politely, “I don’t eat casseroles either.” And not to be left out, my younger brother, the baby of the family, pointed at my dad and drove the final nail in the coffin, “If he won’t eat it, I won’t eat it.”
The three “men” in my family ate bread that night at Miss Artie’s. My mother pushed her Turkey Tetrazzini around on her plate enough to make it look like she had eaten what she could after suffering death by embarrassment. Me? I ate it all and had seconds!
Michelle Blanchard Ardillo is a freelance writer and teacher in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Her work has been published in Washington Family, Baltimore’s Child, and in an anthology of ultra short memoirs titled Reflections. She loves trying new recipes, especially a good casserole. Follow her on Twitter @michardillo or on her website, Cajun Girl in a Kilt, at http://www.michelleardillo.com.