I love the holidays. The sights, the sounds, the flavors, the traditions. All of us are wanting the Norman Rockwell illustration of the happy family with the table bursting with delicious holiday fare.
When I was a little girl, my mother would take us Christmas shopping at the local mall once school had let out for the holidays. We were not big shoppers. When we needed things, we would most often order from the Sears and Robuck or JC Penney’s catalogues. I remember when those large three-inch thick catalogues came in the mail. I could not wait to sit on the couch with a marker and star the things that caught my fancy. I sometimes would turn the page down and ‘dog ear’ my favorites. I don’t remember actually ever ordering, but the looking was almost as good.
On that special day when we did actually go to the mall to see the Christmas lights and to do whatever shopping was to be done, the most special treat was to go to the cafeteria for lunch. Most of the time we went to The Piccadilly. Why this was exciting, I don’t remember. I do remember coveting one of everything on the steam table. Mother would tell me that my ‘eyes were bigger than my stomach,’ something I did not understand until I was much older.
All the food looked delicious. I am a creature of habit, and even then, I would always select the macaroni and cheese as a staple. The cafeteria recipe was much creamier than Mother’s. Mother made the dish from my Russian grandmother’s recipe. The dish was very dense and compact, but it was the only way my father would eat it. Tasty, yes! However, I was enamored with the creamy velvety texture at The Picadilly offering. The dish had been in the oven just long enough for the cheese to slightly crust over on the top. The texture and the flavor were sirens to me, captivating my tastebuds. The second most favorite item for me to select was the chocolate icebox pie. Chocolate is my flavor of choice, and the silky interior of that confection beckoned me every time! I don’t remember which dish was the most satisfying. I had to eat my meal before my dessert, (which is something that as an adult, I sometimes flip, just because I can!)
This past weekend, my husband and I attended a religious seminar. On the way home Saturday, he suggested that we visit a historic cafeteria in Rice Village. I had seen their Phoenix story (you know, rising from the ashes after a fire) on the local news, so I was familiar with the place in theory if not in person.
As we snaked along the line, I came face to face with the chocolate icebox pie first. The meringue was at least four inches high! The Hubz and I bantered back and forth as to who would choose the desert that we would share. While I was eying that steam table, my heart was jerked back to those days long ago at The Picadilly. The sights, the sounds of Christmas are embedded in my memory because my mother would make this restaurant an annual tradition.
Sadly, my parents divorced 40 years ago, and the family is fragmented and broken by life. The truth is that while we love each other dearly, the holiday get-to-gathers are just too painful. Your family table may be like mine, smaller (just the nuclear family) but full of traditional family favorites. Focus on what you do have, while trying not to mourn for what is lost. Enjoy the memories of days gone by, but don’t let them rob you of new memories to be made with your children and grandchildren.
Until next time,